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Eleven Days by Lea Carpenter

Eleven Days

by Lea Carpenter

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Eleven Days, Lea Carpenter I find it so difficult to say interesting things about books that I love. Encomiums tend to be a bit dull, and also ring a bit hollow.
So what can I say about this book? It was, to me, very nearly perfect. Beautifully written--not in a showy way, but very elegant. Every word rang true. It is a page-turner, almost a thriller, but it is also, unexpectedly, a novel of ideas. Ideas about war and parenting and love. Sara and Jason felt real to me. I can quibble with some minor aspects of the book--Jason's motivation for entering the military was a little trite, some perspective shifts near the end did not work--but the core is solid. 
(I recognize this review is maddeningly vague. I am trying not to spoil anything.)
All I can really ask of a novel is that it sticks with me once it is finished. The best novels enable you to see the world from an entirely new perspective--to me, that is the purpose of fiction. This book did that. Read it. ( )
  gayla.bassham | Nov 7, 2016 |
The backstory: Eleven Days, the debut novel by Lea Carpenter, was longlisted for the 2014 Bailey's Prize and shortlisted for the 2013 Flaherty-Dunnan Prize.

The basics: Set in May 2011, Sara's son Jason, part of an elite military unit, has been missing for nine days. Jason and his disappearance are national news. Carpenter tells the story in alternating voices of Sara, in 2011, and Jason, from the past.

My thoughts: Carpenter immediately drew me into this novel and Sara's narrative. The writing is lush and emotional. When the narration shifts to Jason (and the past), I was intrigued. Soon, however, I found myself longing for more Sara and less Jason, or rather less Jason not seen through Sara's thoughts. Structurally, Jason's narration struck me as a functional and intellectual plot device. It lacked Sara's emotionally authentic, and thus more compelling, voice.

Admittedly, this novel is the first one with a strong mother-son connection I've read since I found out I'm pregnant with a son. How much this new knowledge impacted by connection to Sara is difficult to say, but the passages in which she ponders his childhood moved me move than they might have before this knowledge:
"Art and writing: these were his early passions. And that pleased her; it somehow reinforced her sense of herself. It reinforced that she had not ever been owned by anyone--not a government, not a military, not a man. It also reinforced her dreams for what she wanted her son to be. She wanted him to be free from the demons that had come with what his father did, or at least what she knew of what he did. She didn't want a son who grew up to be familiar with words like Kalashinikov, katusha, or jezail--unless he learned them from a Kipling poem."
The passage is beautiful in its own right, and it exemplifies so much of Sara's character and internal thoughts, yet I felt more like a mother character than I often do, rather than simply coming to understand her better.

Favorite passage: "Part of the blissful ignorance of not yet having had a first child is the belief that you might just be able to influence the course of their lives. Influence them to greatness. And away from danger."

The verdict: Eleven Days is a beautifully written, contemplative war novel, but it's also a novel concerned with themes much deeper and broader than war. Carpenter is clearly a talent to watch.

Rating: 4 out of 5 ( )
  nomadreader | Apr 9, 2014 |
The military life is hard on both the soldier and the family. In this fictionalized account of a promising young man who decides to go to the Naval Academy after 9/11, the emphasis is on the psychological aspect of the punitive training to become a Navy SEAL as well as the emotional aspect of giving your only child to the military. Lea Carpenter competently portrays the sacrifices of mother and son. The eleven days in the title refers to the time between Jason's MIA status and Sara finding out what happened to her son in Afghanistan. It is also symbolic of the eleven-day truce after the death of Hector in The Iliad and the World War I Armistice signing at 11:a.m. on November ll, 1918.

There is a plethora of military detail in the book along with plenty of philosophical insights to dwell on. Carpenter also uses many mythological references, and it's evident that Jason represents his beloved namesake in the story of "Jason and the Argonauts" as both were highly dependent on teamwork to reach their goals. Jason is influenced by his dead father's love of poetry. He reads the poems of WWI at night after his grueling days of physical activity and mental stress. While he remembers the heavy casualties of previous wars, he contemplates his role as a warrior who practices restraint in order to prevent needless casualties.

Carpenter writes about the restraint of the new military while she exercises restraint in her writing to avoid the sentimentality that is often present in parent/child stories. Emotion is present but is tempered with the ideals of sacrifice and nobility. I salute Ms. Carpenter on her debut novel which is a powerful love story as well as an intriguing war story. ( )
  Donna828 | Mar 24, 2014 |
I just finished reading this book, so it's hard to pinpoint exactly what it was that so moved me about the book. Suffice it to say right now that it is remarkable -- intelligent, enlightening, sparse, and powerful all at once. ( )
  agjuba | Oct 6, 2013 |
Fictional account of a single mother raising an extraordinary boy into a man who eventually joins the Navy after 9/11 and becomes a SEAL Team member. Great insight into military life, the politics surrounding war, as well as the history of American wars and the evolution of military practices (the modern-day war is fought much differently than say, WWII).

This story contained many thoughtful insights into various issues, but one that stuck with me dealt with PTSD and the problems faced by returning soldiers who have to immediately merge back into civilian life. During WWII, for example, the soldiers/sailors all returned home by boat, giving them a chance to talk to each other about their experiences and slowly prepare themselves for their lives back home--present day soldiers/sailors are put on planes and are not given that time to decompress and get their heads on straight before facing people who truly don't understand what they've gone through.

Characters are politically savvy and are all-around great thinkers. Such a smart book. Enjoyable to read. Brilliant author. ( )
  AddictedToMorphemes | Oct 1, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307960706, Hardcover)

Powerful and lean, Eleven Days is an astonishing first novel full of suspense that addresses our most basic questions about war as it tells of the love between a mother and her son. When the story opens on May 11, 2011, Sara’s son, Jason, has been missing for nine days from a Special Operations Forces mission on the same night as the Bin Laden raid. Smart, young, and bohemian, Sara had dreams of an Ivy League university for Jason that were not out of reach, followed by a job on the Hill where there were connections through his father. The events of 9/11 changed Jason’s mind and Sara accepted that, steeping herself in all things military to better understand her son’s days, while she works as a freelance editor for Washington policy makers and wonks.

Now she knows nothing more about Jason’s fate than the crowds of well-wishers and media camped out in the driveway in front of her small farmhouse in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, waiting to hear news. In a series of flashbacks we learn about Jason’s dashing absentee father, a man who said he was a writer but whose career seemed to involve being in faraway places. And through letters Jason writes home from his training and early missions, we get a picture of a strong, compassionate leader who is wise beyond his years and modest about his abilities. Those exceptional abilities will give Jason the chance to participate in a wholly different level of assignment, the most important and dangerous of his career. At the end Sara will find herself on an unexpected journey full of surprise.

This is a haunting narrative about a mother’s bond with her son; about life choices; about the military, war, and service to one’s country. Lea Carpenter, a dazzling new talent with the kind of strong and distinctive voice that comes along all too rarely, has given us a thrilling and unforgettable story. 

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:07 -0400)

A haunting narrative about a mother's bond with her son; about life choices; about the military, war, and service to one's country. Sara's son Jason is missing from a Special Operations Forces mission undertaken on the same night as the Bin Laden raid. As Sara waits for news, in a series of flashbacks we learn about Jason's absentee father, while through letters home from his training and early missions, we get a picture of Jason as a strong, compassionate leader who is wise beyond his years and modest about his abilities. Those exceptional abilities give Jason the chance to participate in a wholly different level of assignment, the most important and dangerous of his career.--… (more)

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