“That sound. That groan chasing a clap. It hit me a second later. The shock wave knocked me on my back and my helmet cracked against the pavement. Bits of dirt and gravel rained down on my face. I couldn’t hear a thing.” – Micheal Pitre, Fives and Twenty-Fives
One of the most recent Iraq War novels did not disappoint. Michael Pitre’s Fives and Twenty-Fives contains visceral illustrations of the war with passages like the one above as well as accurate renditions of being a combat veteran at home. The novel draws its readers into the worlds of the three main characters, Lieutenant Donovan, Doc Pleasant, and “Dodge,” an Iraqi interpreter, and conveys their experiences in adeptly.
The story follows the deployment of a Marine engineer platoon to the Anbar Province, where their daily work consists of filling the potholes on supply routes created by insurgents’ bombs; potholes which, more often than not, were filled with new bombs. The platoon gets hit. They suffer casualties. They interact with State Department civilians, their leadership, and other units. They see the nascent Iraqi Army at work. And, of course, the Marines navigate the emotional territory inherent in the Iraq War both during the deployment and after. The reader sees the Marine characters’ attempts at romantic relationships and fulfilling their roles as sons and comrades to their Marine buddies. By following the perspective of both officer and enlisted as they live their civilian lives, we see the contrasts, and more often, the similarities in their lives.
The reader also learns about Dodge, the platoon’s Iraqi interpreter who’s left his university studies to escape the ravages of war only to be caught up in its maelstrom anyway. Dodge’s family dynamics and his experience after his time with the Marines offers fresh insight into the other side of the war – that of the Iraqis who were caught in the middle of the sectarianism which tore the social fabric of Iraq asunder.
The narrative structure is creative. It weaves the first-person experiences of the three central characters together into an illustrative and insightful amalgam. While complex, it is not burdensome. Rather, it sets and enticing pace which is spurred on by his terse, spare writing style. Moreover, the language is readily accessible to civilian audiences. The characters are as well. Pitre, a USMC Iraq veteran, has done a remarkable job in elucidating the human condition in the context of war and its aftermath. He’s delved beneath the military and ethnic veneer of the war’s participants and shed light on the human beings they really are.
Fives and Twenty-Fives (Bloomsbury) is available through most major book retailers.