From the Book Jacket…Joey Sullivan, a veteran of the Iraq War, just got his nursing degree and is ready to start working with vets at a local hospital. Things go wrong from day one, however, as he’s contacted by the spirits of dying vets who torment him in his dreams with memories of their horrific war experiences. The spirits won’t leave Joey alone until he agrees to help them check off the last items on their bucket lists. In the meantime Joey continues to struggle with his own memories of war, grappling with the aftermath of that fateful day when his friend triggered a bomb that blasted him to bits, and gave Joey a traumatic brain injury that might be responsible for the second sight that lets him commune with the spirits of the dying vets.
TITLE: Veterans’ Affairs
AUTHOR: Joseph Hirsch
PUBLISHER: Black Rose Writing
GENRE: Horror /Thriller
AMAZON: Veterans’ Affairs, Joseph Hirsch
War may be hell, but things only get worse when you get home.
What a great tag for Joseph Hirsch’s newest novel, Veterans’ Affairs. It sums up the emotional ride that readers will take alongside his protagonist. Strap on your seat belt, you’re about to journey into the mind of a tortured soul who has managed to maintain a sense of humor.
Although this novel is categorized on Amazon as “Horror”, Veterans’ Affairs definitely has psychological-suspense elements. I found the plot a gripping read about a lost soul who is trying to make sense of a mental collapse that he hopes is founded in reality.
A complaint I had with Hirsh’s novel Kentucky Bestiary (2014), was that the story suddenly shifted to fantastical horror. It felt disjointed and lacked context. However, Veterans’ Affairs doesn’t suffer from this stylist misstep. The structure supports the segues into the horror scenes, which are set up in such a way that they are believable, leaving it up to the reader to interpret the events that unravel. Is it supernatural or is it a glimpse into the distorted reality of a disturbed mind? This is a question for the reader to decide as the plot unravels, and I changed my mind numerous times as I read along.
Joey Sullivan returns home from Iraq wounded in body and soul. Struggling with PTSD and chronic pain, he defers suicide when he finishes his RN studies and secures a nursing position at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center. But his traumatic brain injury has created a conduit for dead soldiers from past wars to communicate to him. And they have unfinished business. Until Joey agrees to their terms, the ghosts force him to suffer their battle degradations first hand.
It was a Wednesday night, and, like on any other night, I had a decision to make.
The opening line of the novel sets up Joey’s conflict, and the storyline flows to his final decision. Written first person through the eyes of Joey, the informal writing produces a strong connection to the protagonist and his tribulations. His dog, Tiffany, deftly creates a layer of complexity to Joey’s character that supports the plot.
One of Hirsch’s strengths as a writer is his ability to paint a three-dimensional setting. From the streets of Cincinnati to the horrors of a Japanese POW camp to the sweltering jungles of Viet Nam, this book doesn’t disappoint in that regard.
That color-rich Kodak vision appeared before me, the fronds of the Vietnamese palms bright as the scales on jade dragons.
Some of the scenes are sexually and violently graphic, which is a necessary stylist choice to depict the terrors that live in Joey’s mind. If profanity and distressing images upset you, I wouldn’t recommend this novel. Visiting disturbed minds is a fondness of mine, and I thoroughly enjoyed Hirsch’s newest offering.
There is only one small plot point that I felt cranky about because it transgresses directly to the paranormal without an adequate alternative. Nevertheless, I stick to my impression that this is a psychological-suspense that keeps the reader guessing along with Joey Sullivan over what is real and what is delusional thinking.
Veterans’ Affairs is a captivating and poignant story of an anguished soldier and the gossamer thread that anchors human sanity.