Bring Out the Dog // Will Mackin

I’ve had this collection of stories for an embarrassingly long time, long enough that I don’t even want to admit how long. Let’s just say it was well before their eventual publication (thanks, Netgalley, and sorry for being such a deliquent!).

Will Mackin’s Bring Out the Dog is a collection of stories that depicts the absurdity and tragedy of modern warfare. The stories aren’t particularly gruesome, and there’s little in the way of the overt masculinity I associate with a Hollywood blockbuster depiction of war. Stories of war can easily translate to grandiose adventures and great acts of heroism. Thankfully, this is not that story, and despite it’s grim subject, it’s a humane collection – gritty and honest – laced with just the right amount of dark humor and boredom. I enjoyed it very much.

“I wondered if, one night, we’d drop out of the starry sky in our blacked-out helicopters and land near a walled compound in the desert. We’d run toward that compound with the rotor wash at our backs, through the dust cloud that had been kicked up by our arrival and out the other side. Through a crooked archway in the compound’s outer wall, we’d enter the courtyard. And there, among the fig trees and goats, we’d find an American tourist with a camera slung around his neck. Having served his time in Afghanistan, our fellow-American had gone home, fallen in love, got married, and had the two bow-haired daughters now hiding behind his legs. Maybe he’d wanted his girls to see how brightly the stars shone in the desert. Maybe he’d wanted to share with them all the strange places the Army had sent him, way back when. I imagined that he’d look over at us and then say, with understanding and remorse, “Dudes, war’s over.”

Highlight include “Crossing the River with No Name”, the story of a man who has already used his miracles, “The Lost Troop” (from which the paragraph above is taken), a story of a troop revisiting their interpreter’s petty childhood teacher, and “Great Circle Route Westward Through Perpetual Night”, which is the story of the death of the troop’s dog.

I picked this up based on the striking cover and the even more striking George Saunders recommendations. I was not disappointed. If you’re interested in the modern American experience in war but don’t know where to start, this is an excellent place to begin.

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