Publication Date: April 18, 2014
Straw Writes by Christopher Shugrue is a look into the life of a man returned from war and suffering from PTSD. Returning to civilian life is not an easy process for a person lost in an internal world of horror and tragedy.
The author, Christopher Shugrue, gave me a copy of this novel in exchange for my review.
My 93-year-old Grandfather was in the Navy in World War II. For years he wouldn’t talk about the war. When asked he would brush off questions or miss-direct. Seventy years later he’s willing to talk about his experience. His first revelation was that he and his fellow sailors were among those to “clean” the beach after D-Day. The loss of life, imminent loss of life and general carnage was devastating to the young serviceman. These are the people who come home and we expect to return seamlessly into their place in society. Shugrue in Straw Writes gives us the inner turmoil of one such witness of war.
Straw Writes is a 50-page-work of experimental fiction. Told in a free-form style that oftentimes reads as chaotic; Shugrue takes us into the mind of Straw, a man scarred by war and struggling with his return. “Memory is ghost,” Straw tells us on page 27 and Straw is haunted by his ghosts. The free-form narrative allows the reader to dig into Straw’s raw emotion. He is scary. His wife says in a note that the impetus for her leaving was that he was “…wearing that knife like a fucking threat. Who are you? You’re not the man I married.” (Page 16) He’s a man on the edge. Ready for life to pounce on him and Shugrue’s style of writing conveys his pain and desperation perfectly. He is a man now only with us in body.
The work has a feel of being in the mind of a character in the midst of a psychotic break. He envisions the ghosts of Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg and sees them sitting on the steps of Langston Hughes house and wherever he goes. He flashes back to very real and deeply traumatizing combat. Straw Writes is designed as a raw look into the issues people don’t want to talk about. We laud our soldiers as heroes but are we just taking from them and not doing what’s best for their emotional survival?
Straw Writes, though short, has the feel of a narrative weighed. Each scene may not match the next but they work. Interspersed in the work are poems and quotes from famous authors that are applicable to the piece. As I read this work, I wondered how a veteran would react. As someone who has never served in the military or witnessed a violent and bloody death, I can only guess at the psychological impact this may have. Straw is angry, withdrawn, suffering deeply and unable to escape the impact of his experience. I wonder if someone who has lived the experiences of the novel would find them simply too bruising to relive through Straw. I wondered if this is what my Grandfather experienced on his return from the front. He and my Grandma married shortly after his return. She was a WAVE who earned a Pacific War pin. She died in 1985, and I had no idea of her service until a cousin ordered her military records and shared them with me. What Straw Writes shows us is the internal life of people who have walked the walk and suffered tremendously. Straw Writes is jarring but so important.
The takeaway for this reader is to look at those who have suffered with a new eye. People who have been in the literal trenches returning to society don’t only need help, they are owed that necessity. While I’m sure not everyone in the field sees the action that Straw does in this story, PTSD is a very real concern as our men and woman return to their hometowns.
As a look at experimental fiction, Straw Writes stands as one of the better works I’ve read. Despite the chaotic tone fitting with the subject, it works as a short story. If you’re interested in experimental fiction, military fiction or just really good literary writing, pick this one up today.
Read an excerpt and buy Straw Writes by Christopher Shugrue on