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Battle Rattle and Other Stories by Brandon…
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Battle Rattle and Other Stories

by Brandon Davis Jennings

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Remember when you were in high school English class and the teacher would call on, say, Brian, one of the smart kids, who would give a really cool reaction to and explanation of whatever story we were reading, and then she'd call on one of the dumber kids, who would say, "I was gonna say what he said"? Well, I thought of that when I was finished reading this book, Brandon Davis Jennings's BATTLE RATTLE AND OTHER STORIES. Because these stories just kinda flabbergasted me with their grittiness, their honesty - they were just so real, ya know? And Brian, that smart kid? Well, on the book's back cover, Brian Castner, who wrote the critically acclaimed bestselling Iraq war memoir, THE LONG WALK (which I loved, by the way), said: "I couldn't put this book down." So yeah, what he said. Me too, Brian. I mean neither could I. Because it's that kind of compelling story-telling that keeps you turning the pages long past your regular bedtime. And I'm old, so I need my sleep, ya know?

The book really consists of two novellas with three very short stories sandwiched in between. But all of them are about this young guy, Derrick 'Vez' Vezchek, and his various buddies. In "Battle Rattle" we get the story of their repeated combat deployments to "the desert" or "Sandghanistan" as an Air Force Special Ops team, as well as their testosterone-fueled down times back home. Narrator Vez's friends gradually fall away as his story progresses - his best friend, Rake, as well as Harris, Manchin, and the spit-shining expert Cammack, the 'FNG,' whose sudden and shocking departure echoed that of Joseph Heller's hapless Snowden, in CATCH-22. And although Vez is depicted on the one hand as a devoted husband and father, on the other hand he is a philanderer, slave to his own unrestrained id, who betrays his best friend. In fact the casual sex and obscenity-laced GI dialogue is perhaps what makes these stories seem so genuine and authentic. Having spent eight years in the Army, I know, I remember. Although, being from a different generation, I should probably admit that the casual and promiscuous sex was not so much part of my experience.

In any case, those things carry through into the other novella that bookends the collection, "High Desert Rats." This time, we are looking back at Derrick's aimless, searching, post high school days, hanging with his two best friends, Liam and Sean, who tells the story this time. Like Derrick, Sean is an AF brat, and they all live on or near Edwards AFB north of Los Angeles. The promiscuous sex with willing girls is still much in evidence, but Sean has a secret that is eating away at him, and therein lies the tension that keeps you turning pages furiously. I thought I had this story figured out, but I didn't. Sorry, no spoilers from me.

Once again, I'm gonna use that "what he said" thing. Brian Castner calls Brandon Davis Jennings "an intense and masterful story-teller." And by god, he is. This is one of the best damn collections of stories to come out of the current wars yet, and I've read a bunch of them. Put it up there with Phil Klay's NBA-winning REDEPLOYMENT, or Katie Schultz's FLASHES OF WAR. Or the recent novels by Jesse Goolsby (I'D WALK WITH MY FRIENDS IF I COULD FIND THEM) and MATTHEW J. HEFTI (A HARD AND HEAVY THING). And that's just off the top of my head. Don't take my word for it. Read this book. It is an enormous achievement. Bravo, Mr. Jennings! 'Keep at this writing thing, please. 'Cause I wanna see what you come up with next. My highest recommendation.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the Cold War memoir, SOLDIER BOY: AT PLAY IN THE ASA ( )
  TimBazzett | Apr 4, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0692717102, Paperback)

Battle Rattle and Other Stories combines the grittiness of Dennis Johnson's Jesus' Son with the deep meditation on war and memory found in Tim O'Brien's The Things They carried. Derrick Vezchek joined the USAF to escape a dead end life with his listless friends in the Mojave Desert. What he couldn't predict was that he was signing up for a life in Special Operations that would leave him the sole survivor of his original squad. Can telling his story save him, his wife and his daughter, or is the truth so ugly that he cannot be redeemed? High Desert Rats: In the summer of 2000, Sean doesn’t want Derrick to join the USAF and leave him in the Mojave Desert. But it seems there’s nothing Sean can do to change Derrick’s mind, and what’s worse, is that the one thing Sean desperately wants to tell Derrick is exactly the thing that Sean fears will end their friendship forever.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 13 Feb 2017 05:27:17 -0500)

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