Last week, we saw the news coming out of Fort Hood about a veteran who shot a number of other soldiers at the Texas base. Much of the discussion on major news channels has been about returning vets and the psychiatric care that is offered. It just so happened that last week, Cara Hoffman’s Be Safe I Love You, a story about a soldier’s return home and her adjustment to normality, was published. Given some of the early hype and initial positive reviews, I decided to give it a go.
Lauren Clay is a soldier who recently arrived home in rural New York after serving a tour in Iraq. She returns to her role as daughter, sister, and best friend. The story centers on relationships, particularly that of Lauren and her younger brother. Her family, given their excitement to have her back, is blind to the mental trauma from events that happened while she was on tour. Lauren and her brother, Danny, set off to visit their mother, but Lauren has a different plan in mind. As Lauren devolves, her behavior becomes increasingly irrational. Intent on teaching Danny survival skills, she guides them to the wilderness and an abandoned cabin in the middle of winter. A sense of impending violence looms over the novel as the plot slowly reveals more of what Lauren endured overseas.
The general tone of this book is both bleak and blurred. There is a sense of confusion and obfuscation that contributes to the reader’s understanding of Lauren’s mindset. Though she clearly suffers from post-traumatic stress, the army released her, psychiatrists realizing only later that there might be something wrong.
For anyone who might have read my post on A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, I found the reading experiences of both books to be very similar. The same hazy and murky tone is used in both as a means to make the reader feel what the characters experience. While I understand why the tone is as it is, and while the writing is very well done, it was hard for me to step back and say, “man I really enjoyed that.” Why? Well, for one, there is an intentional confusion that is built into the story as a means for showing the reader how Lauren responds to the world. This confusion, however, can make the plot difficult to follow at times. Secondly, the subject matter is just tough; this topic is both complicated and heavy and in the world of Be Safe I Love You, the happiness is only relative. Many reviewers who really enjoyed this novel suggest that it is a page turner. Though the plot was not slow, I did not find myself to be very eager to find out what happened to Lauren or what she might ultimately do. I was obviously curious, but I wasn’t shocked or surprised when it was ultimately revealed.
However, the experience of reading this book was somewhat helpful in interpreting and further understanding the real life events at Fort Hood. Having access to Lauren’s mindset provided a frame of reference from which I could start to understand why an event like that might have occurred. I think that while I’m glad that I read this book and learned from the story, I just didn’t love it.