Eden Malcom lies in a bed, unable to move or to speak, imprisoned in his own mind. His wife Mary spends every day on the sofa in his hospital room. He has never even met their young daughter. And he will never again see the friend and fellow soldier who didn’t make it back home–and who narrates the novel. But on Christmas, the one day Mary is not at his bedside, Eden’s re-ordered consciousness comes flickering alive. As he begins to find a way to communicate, some troubling truths about his marriage–and about his life before he went to war–come to the surface. Is Eden the same man he once was: a husband, a friend, a father-to-be? What makes a life worth living? A piercingly insightful, deeply felt meditation on loyalty and betrayal, love and fear, Waiting for Eden is a tour de force of profound humanity.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Grotesque imagery, Harsh realities of war, Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Violence
Booklist starred (August 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 22))
In this gorgeously constructed short novel, Ackerman (Dark at the Crossing, 2017) focuses on a marriage between a soldier, Eden Malcolm, and his wife, Mary. In taut, detached prose that is rich in symbolism, the novel begins with Eden’s dramatic return from Iraq, where he has been injured beyond all recognition. Mary comes immediately to his side, heavily pregnant. The scene of much of the novel is the San Antonio burn unit in which Eden resides. In short sections that flit between Eden before the explosion and his existence after, Ackerman, in a mysterious narrative voice, describes how Mary navigates grief, loss, motherhood, and what it means to be married to someone barely alive. Both Eden’s and Mary’s fears and foibles are richly explored to create a deeply moving portrayal of how grief can begin even while our loved ones still cling to life. In this unique Afghanistan and Iraq Wars novel, which joins a growing genre that includes Kevin Powers’ Yellow Birds (2012) and Phil Klay’s Redeployment (2014), Ackerman’s focus on a single family makes the costs of war heartbreakingly clear, as does his drawing emotion and import from the smallest of acts with incredible skill. Many will read this wonderful novel in a single sitting.
Kirkus Reviews starred (July 15, 2018)
Wounded terribly in Iraq three years ago, a soldier awaits his death in a burn center in San Antonio, and we learn of his fate through a surprising, unconventional, and risky narrative strategy. Eden is the soldier who just barely survived when his Humvee hit a pressure plate in the Hamrin Valley, and the narrator is a fellow soldier who was killed in the same explosion—and who considers Eden’s fate worse than his own. Because the narrator is dead, he is granted a kind of omniscience that would be denied someone living; for example, he has access to what passes through Eden’s mind even as Eden is immobilized and practically catatonic. We learn that he and Eden had been friends in the service, had taken some of the same special training, and had been deployed together. Through a series of flashbacks we also learn of the narrator’s attraction to Eden’s wife, Mary, who in the present is grieving over Eden’s hopelessly burned body and is worried about exposing her 3-year-old daughter to Eden’s insentience. Mary is faced with the morally difficult decision of whether or not to release Eden from his suffering, a strategy urged on her by Gabe, a gruff but caring nurse. Ackerman skillfully weaves his story across chapters that alternate between the grim reality of the burn center and Eden’s more robust past, where we discover that he and Mary had difficulty conceiving a child, a tension exacerbated by the narrator’s growing attraction to Mary. We’re informed that Mary and the narrator inhabit a “space that is empty and white, waiting for [Eden]….We both wonder what will happen to us when he finally goes.” The poignancy arises out of the fact that they both love Eden in their own way. An affecting, spare, and unusual novel.
About the Author
Elliot Ackerman is the author of the novels Waiting for Eden, Dark at the Crossing, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and Green on Blue. His writings have appeared in Esquire, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The New York Times Magazine, among other publications, and his stories have been included in The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Travel Writing. He is both a former White House Fellow and Marine, and served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor, and the Purple Heart. He divides his time between New York City and Washington, D.C. His website is www.elliotackerman.com
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