Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What to say when there is nothing for me to say?

How do you criticize a book written for an infant who lost his father in the Iraq War?

No, seriously, how do you do it?

I’m supposed to review “A Journal for Jordan” for the Sunday paper and I have no idea what to write.

Dana Canedy wrote “Journal” using excerpts from, well, a journal that her fiancé kept for his son while he was serving in Iraq. First Sergeant Charles Monroe King sprinkled his notes with anecdotes about how it’s OK for men to cry, the proper way to treat a woman and how he met the mother of his child. Then, before he could show the journal to his son, an IED killed him.

So Canedy — a Pulitzer Prize winner, senior editor for the New York Times and a better reporter than I will ever be — used King’s words to tell the story of the war, King and her to their son.

I’m halfway through “Jordan” and I have no idea what I’m going to write Sunday, partly because I don’t think I’m the person who needs to read it.

Canedy said she wanted to put a face to the Iraq War. Fair enough. It is a horrible thing to die young and anonymous. But I already had a face for the war. Mark Smykowski is my youngest brother’s best friend’s oldest brother. When he died, I interviewed his parents and brothers. I remember each call. I remember being embarrassed to even have the nerve to ask them questions like, “How are you doing?” or “What will you remember most about Mark?” Meanwhile, they were going through the worst pain in their lives.

I hope it helped them to talk about Mark and to let everyone know the kind of person he was.

After Mark, there were more. Josh Harmon’s family was kind enough to let me be there when he was flown into Cleveland. When they unloaded the casket, I felt every limb in my body tremble. Complete silence fell over the airport hangar. It was eye-of-the-hurricane quiet, Alaskan-tundra quiet.

So I don’t need any more faces to the Iraq War. I already have a multi-headed hydra. Every soldier, every spouse, every parent, every sibling and every child reminds me that war is irrefutably hell.

And if this is how I feel just talking to the families, imagine how the families feel?

So, I guess, it makes me uncomfortable to read about one more person’s loss. It feels too much like work, except I can’t say anything to make her feel better. Then again, I’m not sure if there is anything I can say to make any of them feel better.

I still have no idea what to write. Maybe I’ll figure it out by Sunday.

-- Jason Lea, JLea@News-Herald.com

By the way, Canedy will be appearing 7 p.m. Wednesday (1-14) at Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 24519 Cedar Road in Lyndhurst. Ideally, I would have written the review in time to promote the in-store appearance, but that didn’t pan out.



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