Describing Kirsten Clodfelter’s Casualties as a war book is like saying America is a war country. Yes, war is a prevalent theme throughout these five stories, but they are not primarily about war. These stories can not be defined by war, because they have so much more to offer, just as a country has more to offer than its soldiers and its potential for destruction.
Instead of being about war, these stories exist in a world at war; it is their setting, not their purpose.
From the moment you dive into Casualties, the silence is deafening. You are told by the title of the first story that “The Silence Here Owns Everything.” And that it does.
That silence doesn’t always occur because no one’s speaking. In “Where Will I Go in Search of Your Safety,” we are introduced to this distance that sound can only attempt to penetrate. A deployed soldier named Daniel calls his wife and “As he talks, his faint, uneasy laughter is swallowed by the crackling static, and I’m reminded that what’s binding us together in this moment is fragile-an electromagnetic transmission carrying our voices through a distant satellite to cover the six thousand miles between us-and the science of this feels so unreal that it’s like magic.” This is my favorite passage from the book because it is brilliant and poignant and just plain beautiful.
Later in the story, Daniel’s voice is described as “sounding lost somewhere inside his own body.” The silence in this story owns everything, not because no one is talking, but because there is too much to say, words and sounds cannot carry their meanings across such distance of space and experience.
In “Homecoming” a mother feels the pressure of war from all around her, pressure to support her deployed husband, pressure to take care of their baby all alone, pressure to welcome her husband back to a home that has been overtaken by the silence of his absence. “This is also a type of warfare,” Clodfelter writes. And this powerful assertion runs throughout all of the stories in the book. War is not only soldiers on a battlefield. It is countries of mothers and wives, and everyone on the planet, fighting in just as many ways.
“My American Father” tells the story of a Kuwaiti girl whose life is torn by war from the moment she was conceived. Her father was overseas fighting a war at the time and returned home to America before she was even born. She never knew her father because war pulled him from her before she was gone. Yet at the same time, war was the reason she was born in the first place. This delicate balance is also a type of warfare.
The collection ends with “What Mothers Fear,” a story that dives into the warfront. It shows the final cost of war as a family endures bombings and the fallout, the fear and uncertainty of shattered lives. This story takes the collection to the other side of the war, revealing the truth that war is not just America, it is every country in the world. It is terrifying and uncertain to everyone, no matter where they live, which side of the battle they are on, no matter whether they are carrying guns or children.
Kirsten Clodfelter is the author of a chapbook of war-impact stories, Casualties, published by RopeWalk Press in 2013. An adjunct professor of English and composition at Indiana University Southeast and Ivy Tech Community College, she also works as a freelance writer, editor, and social media marketing consultant. She is the Series Editor of At the Margins, a small-press review series at As It Ought to Be, where she is both an editor and contributor. She lives in Southern Indiana with her incredible partner and the funniest, cutest little girl on the entire planet.