When a college professor asks ‘Jackson’ a sensitive question, the young Iraq War veteran and the protagonist in Chris Clow’s “Straw Dogs” is tempted to give an answer that “stick[s] to the concept, the soft, harmless thing that can’t possibly hurt anyone.”
But the story itself does nothing of the sort. Instead, Clow delves into the complex and conflicted world of a combat veteran’s reintegration. “Straw Dogs” follows its protagonist as he navigates college, social life, and work. It bears many of the hallmarks of that experience along the way, highlighting the feelings engendered by awkward questions and, at times, outright antipathy. His unique narrative style renders these experiences in a way that illustrates how the memories of war act as the lens through which the protagonist sees the world.
Clow’s work adds a degree of understanding to the experience of the modern veteran that he feels is missing in current literature. Like most veteran writers, he has personal motivation for helping society understand.
After six years as an infantryman in the Washington and Oregon National Guard, a fellow veteran and friend of Clow’s committed suicide. “As the details came out,” he says, “it made national news briefly, and a lot of people whom I knew in the civilian world made a lot of assumptions that I found to be short sighted and offensive.” He thought their assumptions were based on the overwhelmingly simple archetypes of veterans as victims or heroes. Clow sought to add alternatives to this dichotomy through writing fiction.
“Through fiction, an outsider can examine the experience of another with the baggage of the real world weighing less heavily on the creation. You strip away all the excess and present just what needs to be said.” And Clow believes it’s the veteran and military community that need to tell these stories, to broaden this societal conversation. “It’s on us to be the face we want the community to present to the world.”
“Straw Dogs” is a step in the right direction. It’s not Clow’s first. He’s published a short story, “The Five Most Dangerous Things in the Army,” in The Pass in Review. Nor will it be his last, as he’s working on his first novel.