Tag Archives: prisoner of war

Whispers in the Dark – Maya Banks

Maya Banks writes romances that people apparently scoop up like candy. Whispers in the Dark is sexy but not quite erotica. It also features nearly constant special ops–if you like pages and pages of torture, heavily-armed military rescues, stealth choppers, guarded compounds, a mushrooming number of bad guys, a blond target on the lam and the whole instant soul-mate thing, this is your book.

Shea is a telepath who can take on others’ pain and calm them in dire circumstances. Her sister Grace goes one better, she can actually heal people. The two have split up after their home was invaded, their parents murdered and unknown assailants hunted them, trying to use their paranormal capabilities for unexplained purposes. Very very evil but no clear motives. One day Shea hears and feels the agony of an American soldier captured in Afghanistan, held in a cave in the mountains and tortured with the rest of his unit. A few chapters of unusual connections and perilous “saves” go by and then the soldier is rescued, barely, due to Shea’s intervention. So is his wounded buddy Swanny. Nathan, the soldier, goes home to his family’s compound but he keeps to himself, desolate at the loss of connection to his “angel” and half-certain he hallucinated the whole thing. One day, months later, he hears Shea’s voice again in his head. She is in trouble, extreme pain and fear, and she is reaching out to him for help.

It’s a really fast-paced action adventure and Nathan and Shea waste no time sharing the deepest yearnings of their hearts and other body parts and declaring undying fealty to each other.  So perfect. They both have scars but they are gorgeous anyway. They adore each other and take every opportunity to repeat and repeat how much, and how safe they are now, and how they complete each other. And here’s the tricky part. The extensive Kelly clan, Nathan’s family, are all ex-military who run a paramilitary for-hire organization with the latest weapons, private planes,  sophisticated surveillance and computer systems,  “teams” (as in special forces), guarded compound on which the whole family lives, trains and houses their SUVs, gun  range, training grounds, helipad and vehicles. The family is everything–most brothers are married to women who seem to hang out cooking and such. The place is in flyover country and if that exposes a coastal prejudice in me, so be it. Some books scream: This is my demographic! and this book is one of them.

It was a fast read, pretty fluent but formulaic. The whole telepathy thing was weird, and convenient. All the Kellys loved Shea and Shea loved all the Kellys. Good for them. The compound, the family, the outside enemies, the God-and-family, the obsession with all things military–cult. Supposed to be a kind of safe nirvana but really a classic cult. It almost delivered what it promised–I wanted to find out what happened but not all the pieces were in the puzzle by the end. There are prequels and sequels to Whispers in the Dark. I’m 100 percent certain they are crammed with military operations and earnestly blissful life in the family compound. This cynical peace-loving hippie will probably skip the ongoing saga in favor of watching bootleg Downton Abbey episodes and reading Jane Austen.

Whispers in the Dark   Maya Banks – Berkley Sensations   2012

Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut

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Kurt Vonnegut had a hard time translating his war experiences in the bombing of Dresden into a novel. He bemoaned the difficulties in the open to the final published work, Slaughterhouse-Five, which didn’t appear for more than two decades after World War II. By that time, details of the apocalyptic bombing that incinerated a peaceful, architecturally and culturally rich city and left it flattened and lifeless had emerged. The number of people killed in Dresden was greater than the death toll from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Destroying the city and its inhabitants served no strategic purpose. It was, as so many incidents are in war, a thoughtless and horrible mistake.

Billy Pilgrim is Vonnegut’s stand-in witness to events and Billy’s ingenuous and wry commentary is both cutting and humorous. Vonnegut managed to write a powerful indictment of war, an uncompromising insistence on common sense and compassion, and a very funny novel that never strays too far from the truth of what happened to its author as a prisoner of war trapped in the funeral pyre that was Dresden.

As a soldier, Pilgrim is clueless, feckless and blessed with an odd kind of good fortune. He survives bloody battle, desperate flight for survival in the dead of winter, capture and imprisonment, forced labor and an incendiary disaster through no effort of his own. He is an unintentional clown and a buffoon but he lands on his feet—clad in a pair of stolen glittering silver boots—every time. His observations highlight the cruelty, inhumanity and sheer stupidity of wartime behavior and they are so spot-on and droll that you share his experience. This is no simple trick because his experience is horrific. What Vonnegut saw and reported was sickening and enraging. What Billy Pilgrim relates is a kind of Forrest Gump-like account that makes you laugh even as you recoil.

As an optometrist, husband and survivor of life’s accidents and vicissitudes after the war, Pilgrim slips in and out of mental time travel to convey the mash-up of wartime experience, its social and personal repercussions, the long view of a life’s history with events both anticipated and seen at a distance. He insists that he has been kidnapped by aliens and displayed in a zoo in which American culture is viewed from millions of light years away—and found curious and crazy. His successful adaptation to a career as the head of an optometry practice, his family, his social standing, are upended by his persistent late-in-life candor. Billy’s reality might be the result of a serious head injury and very delayed post traumatic stress disorder. Or it might just be the truth.

The things that happened in the war sections of Vonnegut’s classic fiction about Dresden are not fiction. Most of what he wrote in his own long career was his life and experience, pretty thinly disguised. Slaughterhouse-Five is no exception. The book’s name is the name of the meat warehouse where Vonnegut and his fellow American prisoners were housed in Dresden. Its deep cellar was a safe bunker during the bombing and those who sheltered there, with a few hanging animal carcasses, survived. The memory of what they endured and what they witnessed survived, too. It lives on in a novel that is an hilarious but unambiguous condemnation of war that reads as relevant today as it did when Vonnegut published it during the Vietnam war in 1969. Billy Pilgrim was a time traveler and a prophet. We are still firebombing our Dresdens back into the dark ages. Vonnegut held up a funhouse mirror but we don’t seem to have understood what it reveals.

Slaughterhouse-Five: A Novel    Kurt Vonnegut | Dial Press   2009