Bring Out the Dog

Every war seems to spawn its own bookshelf of fiction (e.g., Hemingway, Heller, O'Brien, Stone and, more recently, Klay, Powers and Ackerman), and the writers who endure display talents for observation, voice and narrative that outlive the high-strung emotion of the battlefield. A navy veteran with multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, Will Mackin is one of those with staying power. The stories in his debut, Bring Out the Dog, are told with such verisimilitude, such balance between compassion and cynicism, such lean haunting prose, that one can't easily shake them. Although mostly set in the Afghan huts and shipping container outposts, with geared-up soldiers anticipating air support at the push of a radio button, they are about much more than the typical buddy/brother military hooah.

Sharing a narrator who swings from gung-ho to bemused, a core of SEAL teammates and similar find-and-kill missions, Mackin's stories exude the very stink of the war--the burning human waste vapors and the unseen enemy's "telltale mix of BO and cigarette smoke." They generate a night-vision goggle panorama of Afghanistan--its "wild dogs, hobbled goats, ruined castles, and winter stars." In the words of an excited new recruit, they also capture the imagined romance of special ops: "You guys muj up, in turbans and man jammies and shit, with MP5s tucked up in there. Like, ka-chow!" Read Bring Out the Dog for its insight into those who fight our modern wars, but read it again for its grasp of the vicissitudes of the human heart. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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