by Michael J. Plunkett
By Leo Jenkins, David Rose, Brian Kimber
116 pp. Dead Reckoning Collective. $25
Every platoon has its cast of characters. Something about getting a group of men together inevitably leads everyone to adopt certain roles. There is the funny guy. The religious guy. The new guy. The pervert. The alpha male. All of these identities and more are explored in Dead Reckoning Collective’s first novella, Lucky Joe. The story follows the recollections of several members of an infantry platoon as they preside over the funeral of one of their friends, Joe Watts, who appears to have one last story to tell from beyond the grave.
They reminisce about their deployments with Watts and the anomaly of his character. Joe Watts, we are told early on, “was a natural storyteller because he rarely concerned himself with the facts.” He is the kind of guy you love to hate but can rely on in the direst of situations. What makes this book so relatable is every veteran has a Joe Watts in their past.
While most stories have a single author, Lucky Joe was written by three. Leo Jenkins, David Rose, and Brian Kimber, all veterans of the Global War on Terrorism, each contributed a section to the novella. What’s especially impressive is how their respective efforts come together to create something whole. The result is several unique voices behind a single, unified narrative. There is no way to tell who wrote which section. The characters they create talk over one another. Their memories overlap and contradict each other’s. It is the exact way legacies are shaped: slowly and without a clear right or wrong.
Readers are guided through the warped lens of memory and the effect it creates is both disorienting and yet revealing. We get to see Lucky Joe Watts from a revolving round of different perspectives and in different moments throughout their deployment. The memories of each character are constantly shifting throughout the course of the story.
In choosing to have a cohesive narrative written by multiple authors, all of different backgrounds (this is Kimber’s first stab at writing fiction while Jenkins and Rose are both accomplished writers each with several publications to their names), they have adopted a literary tradition rarely seen from the post-9/11 veteran generation as of yet. The experience of reading this novella is one of a collective retelling of lived experience that allows for multiple voices to create a conversation between veterans. The shift in language from section to section is noticeable.
The details are grotesque and gritty. The reader is spared no details of what it is like to be a foot soldier in the early days of the Global War on Terrorism. One moment the story focuses in on the neurological effects that occur in the brain as a memory is formed with precise detail while the next chapter forgoes any interiority and instead focuses on the mundanity of life on a FOB in a country just waking up to the invaders on its doorstep.
At one point a character reflects on their time in country and proclaims that “Iraq had been… strange.” Lucky Joe comes at a time when many veterans of the Post-9/11 generation are navigating their identities and how it relates to a war that is coming up on its second complete decade. This sentiment sums up the experience of many of those who fought in a war that still hasn’t ended and therefore the legacy of which is still as fluid as the narrative of Lucky Joe itself. The writers of this novella are coming together to resist the tired tropes of our military service members. They are attempting to break free of the monolithic identities commonly seen in popular media. By doing so, they create a narrative that is in conversation with itself.
Lucky Joe tells the story of the infantry grunt in the early days of the Global War on Terror and it does so from a variety of different perspectives through the lens of memory. It does not shy away from the more troubling moments of the conflict while also resisting the typical tropes of hero worship. It is equal parts literary experiment and memoir written by the men who fought there. What readers are getting is a story of the war from those who lived it and how they remember it.
Michael currently serves in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. After working in the financial industry for Fidelity Investments and Morgan Stanley for several years he began pursuing fiction writing full time. He is a candidate in the MFA Program at the College of Charleston in South Carolina where he received first place in the 2021 MFA Creative Writing Prize in Fiction.