The Story of Sand
Mark B. Pickering
Review is by Molly
The narrative opens with Sampson Roy awakening in his tent after drinking himself to oblivion the night before. His fondest wish was that he did not have to see another living person, ever. However, when he was hungry or wanted something to drink he was forced to trek into town. The work continues as Roy comes face to face with the ghost of an army buddy, recalls his military service, the deaths of friends, the horror of the war and his anger. The tale weaves and spins is filled with lust, booze, misunderstanding, as first one ghost and then more appear to take part in the story and the narrative continues toward the final chapter.
Story of the Sand is a fictionalized recounting of the dilemma surrounding a combat soldier who has seen comrades fight and die. The result, according to the author, is a man now facing myriad problems; mental, relationship, financial, inability to cope with what has happened as a result of the disillusionment felt by the main character Sampson Roy who went off to war full of optimism and the belief that those in power can be trusted; that the war undertaken was right, proper and needful.
Sampson Roy has returned to his home in Georgia a changed man after spending months fighting in the sands of Iraq. Roy finds himself powerless to deal with home, society, life in general. He soon learns that the government he served has little care concerning his problems; he receives little help from the VA or any other agency. Gone is the patriotic idealist who went off to serve his country, in the wake is an angry, aggrieved pessimist.
Roy's psychological harm due to what he observed while serving in the Middle East has left him with a marriage in tatters, himself a pariah to those he has known and with whom he had relationship. He retreats into a lonely world filled with liquor.
The unexpected dreamlike appearance of a ghostly figure of a dead soldier, David Tree, killed during the fighting in Iraq and unable to pass to the other side, brings Roy some unexpected news. His wife is pregnant.
Author Pickering sets down an intense portrayal of war's devastation for the individual soldier, and the aftermath filled with loneliness, misery and attempts at rehabilitation.
Roy cautiously attempts to re enter the world he left; however his alcoholism and self-destructive temperament has left him branded an outsider. His wife rejects reconciliation. Roy yearns to return to the life he knew prior to his military deployment, he hopes to raise his child. Finding the resolve to conquer his addictions and turn his life around may be too daunting.
Through Pickering's clever writing the reader carried along in unanticipated, imaginative directions. While the various twists and turns are fundamental to the story, the tale borders on the bizarre, unless Pickering is attempting to portray some of the drunken stupor induced hallucinations Roy may have experienced.
Even though PTS is not mentioned, Story of the Sand is presented as a glimpse into Post Traumatic Stress many battlefield survivors experience. The personal battle each combatant fights once the return home is completed is of course undertaken by a very changed person, that is an indisputable fact well known by those of us who may be married to a combat veteran, or who are themselves veterans. I was often left pondering what the writer really meant to portray as I read the book. At times the overwhelming reference to sexual activity, and the ghosts became so blurred I felt lost in the wake. The ghosts seemed at times to take over the story until the story of the soldier and his stress were only a sidelight to the activity of the ghosts.
The sense of personal loss, desperation for a hope for tomorrow and a yearning for things to return to normal, as they were before the soldier went off to war is difficult reading for readers who may themselves have personal relationships with a PTS suffering former combat soldier.
Pickering's writing is gripping, stirring, troubling at times and with the line between reality and allegory so blurred as to render difficult reading in spots. Story of the Sand is recommended for those who enjoy a gritty, hard hitting novel filled with tangled interpersonal relationships and compelling characters.
These reviews are personal opinions only and in no way reflect other readers' opinions of the books discussed.
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