A Contemporary War Short Fiction Listicle

The 2013 Fire and Forget anthology of short war fiction featured a who's-who of established and soon-to-be-prominent war writing authors.
The 2013 Fire and Forget anthology of short war fiction features a who’s-who of established and soon-to-be-prominent war-writing authors.

Ten excellent short stories about war in Iraq and Afghanistan, listed in alphabetical order below by author, with no writer represented more than once. Very subjective, and not definitive, but I wouldn’t walk into a room of war writers without knowing them all. It’s interesting that of the stories featuring American service men-and-women, only one, Will Mackin’s “Kattekoppen,” is set entirely in-theater. Another, Annie Proulx’s “Tits-Up in a Ditch” features scenes set before, during, and after deployment. The others portray soldiers and Marines upon return to the States and feature flashbacks to or reminiscences about Iraq or Afghanistan–the signature narrative moves of contemporary war short fiction so far.

Hassan Blasim, “The Green Zone Rabbit.” The best of any number of diabolically perverse stories in The Corpse Exhibition, a collection of tales set mostly in Baghdad by Iraqi expatriate Blasim, the Edgar Allan Poe of the 21st-century.

Frederick Busch,“Good to Go.” Busch’s son Benjamin served two tours in Iraq and writes like a dream himself, but his father gets the nod here with this early-on (2006) story of a war-damaged Marine.

Siobhan Fallon, “The Last Stand.” Any story in Fallon’s remarkably even You Know When the Men Are Gone could have made the list, but this portrait of the collapse of a wounded veteran’s marriage stands out for its heart-rendering tenderness toward the two protagonists, Kit and Helena.

Mariette Kalinowski, “The Train.” One of three entries on the list from the Fire and Forget anthology (edited by Roy Scranton and Matt Gallagher), Kalinowski’s story of an alienated female veteran remains, as far as I know, the only fiction written by a woman veteran with significant outside-the-wire experience in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Phil Klay, “Redeployment.” There are other great stories in Klay’s collection Redeployment, but the title tale, with its already famous first line, “We shot dogs,” has captured both the public and critical imagination as the saga par excellence of the traumatized vet. “Redeployment” first appeared in the Fire and Forget anthology.

Nikolina Kulidzan, “The Final Cut.” This sizzling story, which appeared in the Veterans Writing Project journal O-Dark-Thirty, portrays directly what other war fiction has tip-toed around or treated demurely: the jangled-up erotic circuitry of redeployed veterans, both men and women.

Will Mackin, “Kattekoppen.”  Surreal sci-fi influenced fiction about an artillery battery in Afghanistan; it appeared in the surprisingly war-lit-friendly New Yorker. For more sci-fi inflected short war fiction, see Brian Turner’s “The Last Wave” and Andrew Slater’s “New Me,” both in Fire and Forget.

Annie Proulx, “Tits-Up in a Ditch.” Proulx, like Frederick Busch, is a literary old master in relation to war writing’s young Turks, but her 2008 story anticipates many themes that would become later become commonplace in the works of other authors: women-in-uniform, IEDs, disability, post-deployment disaffection. “Tits-Up in a Ditch” first appeared in the New Yorker.

Katie Schultz, “Into Pure Bronze.” Sharp portraits of American fighting men and women abound in Schultz’s flash fiction collection Flashes of War, but this story of young Afghans playing soccer in Kabul Stadium arguably best showcases Schultz’s impressive powers of imagination and empathy.

Brian Van Reet, “Big Two-Hearted Hunting Creek.” The third story from Fire and Forget to make the list, Van Reet’s bleak and acerbic tale features two of the most-instantly-memorable protagonists of the war writing canon:  the badly disabled Sleed and Rooster, two veterans whose physical carnage is more than matched by their damaged psyches.

Honorable mention stories and authors are too many to list, but I hope to give them their due in time.

One thought on “A Contemporary War Short Fiction Listicle”

  1. Peter, This is a wonderful list. I’ve read many of these stories and look forward to reading all of them. I hadn’t yet read Annie Proulx’s “Tits Up in a Ditch” and she’s one of my favorite writers so I started there. It isn’t so much a coming-home story as a story about a home that was never safe to begin with. I’ve been thinking about the last moment in the story for days now.

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