I have had this book on my radar for a while despite the book not being published until February next year. Matt Gallagher was one of the editors and contributors to an impressive collection of war stories, Fire And Forget, which featured a number of top writers including David Abrams and National Book Award winner Phil Klay. At the time of reading it I knew each writer in that collection was somebody worth looking out for and I have yet to be proven wrong. So the moment I heard Matt Gallagher had a forthcoming novel I was on the lookout for it.
The United States has been at war for over a decade. And like previous conflicts out of the tragedy and horror there has been some incredible books written and published. Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds and Phil Klay’s Redeployment have been outstanding achievements in fiction and will be classics for generations to come. Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, David Abrams’ Fobbit and Michael Pitre’s Fives And Twenty-Fives have each added to this list of powerful, satirical and insightful works of literature examining war in the 21st century. And now there is Matt Gallagher’s Youngblood to add to this list.
Youngblood is very different from the above mentioned novels mainly because it is about a very different Iraq War. The narrator of the book is Lieutenant Jack Porter, who is leading a platoon of men in the last stages of the war. America is nearing the end of its involvement in Iraq with the new Iraqi Army being trained to takeover. Porter’s war is mainly dealing with the internal power struggles of the town surrounding his outpost, paying off local men and appeasing those whose lives have been affected by the ongoing violence in their country. It is his job to keep a lid on the fragile peace that has been eked out by those who have come before him, including his older brother.
Porter’s war is as dreary as the hot desert weather until he is assigned Sergeant Chambers, a veteran of a different time in Iraq who brings a new attitude to Jack’s platoon. He also brings with him his past reputation in the town they are stationed. Jack is determined to be rid of his new Sergeant and begins his own investigation into Chambers and his past in their area of operations. A past that swirls with rumours of civilian killings and an AWOL American soldier. A past that threatens to reignite the violence and reprisals that had appeared to be almost over.
Porter is determined to do one good thing in the war while at the same time making sure he can get all his men home and at times he is not sure he can do either. Porter must grapple with the complexities of a war that has not been clear for a very long time. Which is made less clear by the coming of an arbitrary end point that is meaningless to those who are involved and those who are caught in the middle.
Matt Gallagher expertly weaves together an intricate mystery and a tragic love story with the everlasting contradictions and hypocrisy of modern warfare. Compelling and insightful this is another great work of fiction about the Iraq War.