Boerum Hill war vet finds critical acclaim with short story collection

Boerum Hill war vet finds critical acclaim with short story collection
Hanna Dunphy

Not all war stories take place on the battlefield.

A Boerum Hill author is bringing his celebrated collection of short stories about the homecoming experiences of veterans to Word Bookstore in Greenpoint on Feb. 24.

Phil Klay earned widespread critical acclaim and won the National Book Award for fiction with his 2014 debut “Redeployment,” and now the author is releasing the book in paperback. A Marine Corps veteran himself, Klay said he penned the tome to show not just the trauma soldiers have to deal with during and after combat, but also the battle of returning to their civilian lives in America.

“Even if someone’s experience was not particularly intense, it takes time to think it through and process it,” he said. “You come back to a country that is not really engaged with what it means to be a country at war.”

Klay joined the Marines in 2005 after graduating from Dartmouth College, and spent 13 months in Iraq — much of it in the restive Anbar Province — from January 2007 to February 2008. Working as a public affairs officer he did not see combat, but he was billeted near a surgical center and said he saw his fair share of injured soldiers. Klay said it was especially surreal watching a fellow marine die shortly before going on leave to New York.

“It was a very strange experience to have gone from that happening to walking down Madison Avenue in the summer,” he said.

Portions of “Redeployment” take place amidst the American occupation and reconstruction in Iraq. But the majority of the book concerns itself with the tension soldiers encounter between their experiences and the welcome — or the lack of one — they receive when they arrive home.

None of Klay’s stories are autobiographical, but two in particular follow soldiers who, like the author, went to college in the Northeast after their deployment. In these stories, he explores the lack of understanding by fellow students, as well as the feeling of survivor’s guilt when one veteran finds more success than a former comrade. These experiences can be extremely isolating, Klay said.

“I knew a lot of veterans who had the experience of being the only one in their classes,” said Klay, who earned his Master of Fine Arts at Hunter College in 2011. “I’ve had people tell me I was the first veteran they ever met.”

Klay said he did not set out to write stories with a message, but he did strive for honesty and realness. As a result, readers’ impressions of the book may reflect their own opinions about war as much as they will his.

“I think if the book is honest and you’re anti-war, you’ll find things to justify that, and if you’re more hawkish, you’ll also find parts that justify that view,” he said. “I did not write to prove a particular ideological point, because that would be limiting. Reality is not didactic.”

Phil Klay celebrates the paperback release of “Redeployment” at Word [126 Franklin St. at Milton Street in Greenpoint, (718) 383–0096, www.wordbrooklyn.com]. Feb. 24 at 7 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhuro‌witz@‌cnglo‌cal.com or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz