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Genres confuse me. People ask me what genre this or that belongs to. I never know. Or when I think I know, it turns out the genre changed gears. Case in point, The Reckoning.
Because ghost stories are not in vogue at the moment, I was warned not to call The Reckoning a ghost story, even though it is. Instead I’ll call it a mystery, because mysteries are never out of vogue, about nine American soldiers who went missing thirty years ago during the Vietnam War.
I’ll also call it an adventure thriller, because adventure thrillers are in vogue, about Molly, a photojournalist from Boulder, who loves yoga and Good Earth tea and finds herself on assignment in Cambodia, with a military forensic team searching for the bones of a dead pilot. Using dog tags as bait, an expatriate guides her into the jungle, and a trap, and the company of lost souls…which I am not supposed to call ghosts.
At the heart of this novel lies a question. Who owns a war? Who owns its memories? Who owns its legacies? Who owns its dead? Do these things belong to the soldiers who fight the war, or to the families of the soldiers who survive them, or to their generation, or to an administration, or to their nation as a whole?
What I try to suggest, by unleashing a typhoon upon the fictional ruins in my story, is that war is a tempest. It is a flood. Once it’s unleashed, we get swept away in ways we may never know. In that sense, war owns us.
Even a generation after Molly was born, the ghosts of Vietnam walk among us. All we need to do is look around us. Vietnam was a great divide in our last presidential race. Thanks to Iraq, quagmire has entered our vocabulary again. The notion of a military draft is sending shock waves through the country. Even the ways we fight our wars today are predicated upon the lessons of Vietnam, and that includes erasing the dead even before they’re buried.
On one side of America (in Hawaii, where the military HQ for forensic recoveries is located), we are welcoming home our war dead from Indochina and World War II and the Cold War in the full light of day, with the media and public invited and welcome. At the exact same time, on the other side of America, our war dead from Iraq are kept hidden from view for propaganda purposes, so that the public will not remember them, so that we will forget the realities and costs of the war we’re in now. In Hawaii, we receive the remains with openness and pride. At Dover and Andrews Air bases, the media is forbidden to take picture of anonymous, flag draped coffins, a way of disappearing the truth and mutating national memory.
Which brings me around to The Reckoning, which is a mystery and a thriller and a ghost story. I wrote it as a page turner, I hope, to take you off into another world and give you a few chills.
But I also wrote it as a reminder that history is the greatest haunted house of all. No matter how tight we squeeze our eyes shut, no matter how much we believe we are separate from what is going on around us now or from what came before us back then, our wars are always right there, ready to jump out and possess us.
As Molly learns among the bones she discovers, there is such a thing as a victim who is dead but can’t die, and whose unfinished business is necessarily our unfinished business, whether we like it or not.
What I try to suggest in The Reckoning, through fiction, is that our wars own us. We are connected to them even when we have no memory of them. They are like ghosts that haunt us, coming and going when they wish.