Thursday, March 12, 2009

Review: Soft Spots

Soft Spots, by Clint Van Winkle

Subtitle: "A Marine's Memoir of Combat and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" [PTSD]

Definition: Soft spot: stepping on (or in, as Van Winkle did) the remains of a fellow Marine.

Published just eight days ago, this book is a sad, sad testament to the Iraq "war" and the effect it is having on way too many returning veterans. Van Winkle, with a Masters degree in creative writing, has written a tight horror story in a mere 213 pages—not one extraneous word, no soapboxing about the reasons for the "war" (other than "murky"), and definitely no James Frey-type chest-pounding bullshit.

Van Winkle, an active-duty Marine at the time, was deployed to Iraq on Valentine's Day, 2003 (over six years ago), very close to the beginning of the "war." His mission: to follow the battle plan and uphold the integrity of the Marine Corp.

The problem is, there was no battle plan. There were no terrorists yet, no homicide (screw suicide) bombers, and no IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices, like roadside bombs). The fighting was with Saddam's loyalist fedayeen and, because they looked like any other Iraqi, there were thousands of civilian casualties—including a ten-year-old girl Van Winkle thinks he blew away.

And therein lies the PTSD part. Once home again, Van Winkle struggled with living a normal life and memories of battle. The story segues back and forth between the two, which the favored "expert" ARC reviewers on found confusing.

But that is the very nature of PTSD: the inability to distinguish reality from nightmare, as well as the veracity of the nightmare itself. The transitioning was not a literary device, as some reviewers suggested. These memories strike at any time any place, and Van Winkle drank heavily because the memories, the anger, and the hypervigilance stopped when he was drunk.

When Van Winkle sought help at the Phoenix V.A. hospital he was diagnosed with PTSD by a nurse, given a script for an antidepressant, and sent on his way. Period. A few weeks later, he was seen by a psychiatrist at the same clinic, given a script for an antidepressant, and sent on his way. Period. "It is all well and good to stick a 'Support Our Troops' magnet on your car," he says, "but the people who should be supporting me, the Veterans' Administration, is doing nothing."

This book made me extremely angry. And it should make every one of you angry as well if you choose to read it. It is graphic and profane, but in the safety of your reading chair it is probably 1/1000th of the real thing. And that is the sad, sad part: "supporting our troops" has taken a backseat to our personal economic problems and comfort.

* * * * *

If there is any good news about Iraq it is the announce-ment that the remaining 4,000 troops from the U.K. will be leaving by August of this year.


Attila The Mom said...

I really can't deal with sad and horrifying now. Unless it's fake.

Thanks for the review!



You can call me Sara or a(n) . . . said...

What a rough read. I agree--there's not enough done to "support our troops" once they come back a psychological mess. Very tragic. :(

Mary Witzl said...

I'll never get caught up, Charlie, but that's no reason for you to stop writing reviews. Sometimes I worry that the closest I'll get to reading the books is reading the reviews, and if that is the case, at least I can read GOOD ones.

This worries me so much. Every war has had a different name for the psychological trauma the soldiers go through, whether it's shell-shock or battle fatigue or soldier's heart or PTSD. You'd think that there might be more support and understanding now, but that obviously isn't the case. It is very sad.