The effects of war are unpredictable and ever-reaching. Luke
Mogulson’s These Heroic, Happy Dead, a collection of modern
war-related short stories, provides unsettling, haunting glimpses into
the lives of veterans suffering from varying degrees of PTSD. Like Tim
O’Brien’s epic Vietnam war novel The Things They Carried, (one of my
all-time favorites), These Heroic, Happy Dead exposes readers to the
unspoken issues, the ugly, dirty truths, and the huge burdens our
veterans, along with their families, are left to bear following their
service to our country.
Drug and alcohol abuse, violent mood swings and domestic violence are
but a few of the many post-combat issues Mogulson explores in his
series of short stories. Though the individual tales shift between
multiple veterans at various times in their military careers, the
common thread of alienation unites the characters. Following exposure
to the awful and at times beautiful elements of combat, the former
soldiers find re-acclimation to civilian society all but impossible.
Personal relationships, particularly romantic and marital, are shown
to suffer, often critically, unable to make allowances for the new
anger and proclivity for violence. In “To the Lake” and “Visitors”,
troubled veterans Bill and Rob, following their service, are prone to
violence. This results in loss of familial and romantic relationships,
and in Rob’s case, freedom, when he is imprisoned as a consequence for
acting upon his rage. Alcohol replaces conversation for several of the
characters who cannot discuss their experiences with friends or
family. This substance abuse serves to further alienate the character
from society, as well as exacerbate feelings of anger and depression.
Though dark in subject, These Heroic, Happy Dead is not without humor.
There are many instances of quirky, surprising comic relief littered
throughout the work which I found very welcome. This collection is not
a diatribe, but rather an evocative piece reminding us of the
ever-complicated messiness of war. Mogulson conveys empathy for not
just the veterans he creates, but for their families, friends, foreign
allies, and the many lives who are and forever will be affected by
I enjoyed These Heroic, Happy Dead. Like Vonnegut and O’Brien before
him, Mogulson left me moved, uncomfortable, and in question of how
many elements of his work of fiction are, in part or in whole,
inspired by actual events. I appreciate his style and narrative voice,
shifting between characters and periods of time and resplendent with
many an interjection and expletive. Luke Mogulson has set the bar
quite high with this, his debut novel, thus ensuring that I, and no
doubt many others, will be keeping an eye out for his future works.
*- I received a copy of this novel from Crown Publishing in exchange
for an unbiased review.