Schultz begins the story in medias res: “It’s not quite
sniper fire, but it isn’t random either.” While America is at the mall,
a Navy SEAL is treading water in a river as bullets rain “like a Carolina
downpour.” The story is flash fiction, hardly more than one page long. From
its position as seen through American eyes, Schultz pivots the point of view in
the next story in order to see the war through the eyes of an Afghan woman in Kabul.
The woman explains how her burqa makes the world more tolerable. Without the burqa
she says “...the sun is so bright that when I walk it feels like swimming
through sticky yellow air.” Images follow which reveal the carnage of war.
An undetonated missile “sleeps like a gigantic baby” in the woman’s
garden. Her father is dead. Everywhere there are craters and rubble, a brick wall
around her home is gone, and even the tools for repairing the wall have been looted.
The author pivots again in the next story, looking through the eyes of an American
soldier “Home on Leave” and trying to adjust. He is partying with his
brother, enjoying himself, only to find that the war is at the party too—in
the form of a veteran who lost a leg and has turned into a foul-mouthed bully and
There are descriptive gems page after page: “I left one elbow and my entire
left hand in the middle of a filleted Humvee...” “I tried to get up
and go back inside but my legs felt like sandbags.” [He was] “almost
normal looking if the angle is right...” “Once, I watched an old mutt
nibble on a dead Afghan’s wounds and nose into his flesh rabid with hunger.
The dog appeared embarrassed and lost, like a fallen dictator pillaging the remains
of his own village.”
Back and forth it goes, one side, then the other. Up stories. Down stories. Heartbreaking
one moment, triumph the next. Stories filled with an immense humanity, all together
detailing the trivia, the nonsense, the rudiments and essentials. The nuts and bolts
of war, its lifeblood, its jargon, its maddening absurdities and heroisms and senseless
deaths and maimings are laid out in a clear, clean, rhythmic tessellation, united
with a deceptively minimalist style that out-Carvers Carver and exposes the traumas
of war without any breast-beating outrage. But outrage is what one feels. Outrage
and exasperation, but also a sense of satisfaction at Schultz’s adept achievement.
Flashes of War is her first published book. The stories are so accomplished,
so professional that one thinks a well-seasoned writer had written them, a brilliant
old stager with a list of publications as long as your arm. Can she top herself?
Given the evidence so far, it seems certain she will.
—Previously published in Los Angeles Review of Books
is the author of six novels, and recipient of an AWP Award for Best Novel
(The Book of Mamie), a National Endowment for the Arts Award, a
South Florida Sun-Sentinel Award for Favorite Book of the year
(The Altar of the Body), a Milwaukee Magazine Best Short
Story of the Year Award, a Pushcart Honorable Mention—and, most recently,
a 2013 Indie Book Award (Minnesota Memoirs was chosen as Winner in the
Short Story category).
Brenna’s latest books include a memoir, Murdering the Mom (Wordcraft
of Oregon, 2012), and a collection of short stories, Minnesota Memoirs
(Serving House Books, 2012).
His novel, The Holy Book of the Beard, which he says is one of his favorites,
was re-released in 2010 (New American Press). A New York Times review of
this book says, “It is loaded with all the ingredients of an underground
classic...it is nearly impossible to put down.”
Brenna’s stories, poems, and essays have appeared in Cream City
Review, SQ, Agni, The Nebraska Review, The Literary Review, The Madison Review,
New Letters, and numerous other literary venues. His work has been translated
into six languages.