A review of Homefront – anti Iraq War novel
Optimism of the Will
by Ron Jacobs
Tony Christini wondered why there were no antiwar novels published in the US about its war in Iraq. So did his cohorts Mike Palecek and Andre Vltchek.
After all, doesn’t this war and its implications need a fictional approach to reach readers who avoid non-fiction? Don’t other cultures and peoples utilize the fictive approach to make political points. Indeed, haven’t writers throughout history understood the power that fiction provides for a view too often unheard. I guess one could argue that there is such a thing as political fiction in the United States if they included novels about Washington corruption and chicanery, but there is little fiction that considers the politics of US extraparliamentary movements. Given this dirth of literature, Christini, Palecek and Vltchek started a publishing venture to resolve the situation. The company, known as Mainstay Press, has around a half dozen titles currently on their list, most of them fiction. It also includes a website that features discussions about literature and politics.
Homefront is the first novel in a trilogy that takes on the Iraq War and the complicity of the common citizen. Set somewhere in the United States, the story is told through the words and thoughts of one family and some members of their circle. A year after losing their son during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the novel presents the family’s questions and doubts. Simultaneously, it carries on a conversation with the reader about the reasons for the young man’s death.
Oftentimes, novels like Homefront are so political that they read more like a tract from some political sect than like a novel. In other words, the politics render the flow of the story and its characters to be woodenlike props. The story become secondary at best to the politics. While there is no doubt that this book is very political, just like there is no doubt as to the author’s politics, Christini manages to make this work quite readable. The story has its own compelling style that sweeps the reader into the minds and hearts of its characters.
The son’s death proves to be a cathartic event in the life of the family and the individuals that make it up. The mother can’t get away from the doubts she has regarding her first statement to the press where she stated “Aaron (her son) died for all of us.” It seems that within minutes of her utterance, she begins to wonder whether she should have said “Aaron died because of all of us.” It is this question that the novel revolves around and it is this question that the author wants each of us to answer for ourselves.
Like Upton Sinclair’s King Coal or even John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, Homefront is part moral and political outrage and part story. Taken from today’s headlines, there are themes in this book that read like the evening news. However, the format of fiction allows the writer (and the reader) to go beyond the soundbite. Thereby that ordinary US family becomes an intellectually and emotionally complex creature. Mom not only questions the complicity of her politician cousin, she also questions her own. The dead man’s brother wonders how much the world of sports and macho masculinity created he soldier his brother became. His sisters move from their very private worlds to the public sphere where nothing is certain but their own convictions. It is the author’s hope that the reader will do the same.
Is the US public this complex? Or are they like so many docile creatures that think only how they are told? Are their concerns really only as deep as the next episode of their favorite television show or the next ball game? Christini thinks not. Otherwise, why bother writing the novel? Most folks involved in the antiwar movement agree with Christini. Otherwise why bother spending the energy it takes to go to meetings and marches? Most politicians, on the other hand, seem to hold the opposite viewpoint. Otherwise, why would they continue to support and fund a war that poll after poll tells them their constituents don’t support? If they don’t consider us to be the simple creatures described above, than the only other possibility is that they hold us in even greater contempt than previously thought. Or perhaps it’s just that the money from the plutocrats that really run this country is just so plentiful that any public or private conscience that the politicians have is rendered dumb in its presence. The presence of amoral (if not immoral) power and greed, and their effect on those whom we choose to rule us is the subject of the second book in the trilogy, Washburn.
Homefront is an overtly political and staunchly antiwar novel. This in itself is a rarity in today’s world of publishing. Besides the novels of Washington corruption and chicanery mentioned above, Tom Clancy and a myriad of others publish works that justify and encourage the warmongers and their backers, all the while implying to the reading public that the world the imperialists made is the only real world and one that not only deserves to be, but is as permanent as the mountains of the Himalayas. Not since Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five has there been a novel for the US market that so clearly addressed war from an oppositional viewpoint. Homefront is a noble attempt to change that fictional reality.