Fives and Twenty-fives by Michael Pitra, a great debut novel

5As I read Michael Pitra’s novel about three men recently returned home from the war in Iraq, I had to constantly remind myself that I was reading fiction and not memoir. Everyone in the story felt so real and so authentic. You can tell Pitra himself was a soldier. It’s all in the details. The little things like gear being much heavier at the end of the day when it has absorbed sweat and dust and is weighted down with both. Those details that may seem minor added so much authenticity to the story.

The characters Pitra created are so realistic and believable. Lieutenant Peter Donovan who feels overwhelmed by his role as a leader. Lester “Doc” Pleasant who is haunted by the death of his gunny Sergeant, and Dodge the Iraqi interpreter who, no matter where he flees to, cannot escape unrest and revolution. Pete and Lester return home after their tours and find themselves unable to relate to family, friends, and society. It’s a sobering realization to come home feeling like a stranger. Our military returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experience a similar situation. The greatest thing about this novel is the insight it gives into the lives of newly-returned-home veterans. The detachment they feel, the isolation imposed either by themselves or by the families and friends who seem so removed from them. Pitra highlights the differences between new war veterans and civilians everywhere from the inside of a classroom to a New Year’s fireworks show.

My only complaint is the sudden and abrupt ending. I was expecting to keep reading about Pete, Doc, and Dodge, but suddenly, with one phone call, the book ends. It left things feeling a bit open-ended, a bit unfinished. Perhaps that is because these men have most of their lives ahead of them, and for these characters, the end of their military careers is another beginning, but I was left wanting more. What became of Pete and his sailboat? Will life get easier for Lester? What will become of Dodge? Pitra leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions, but I still say this book I a must read. A great debut. I look forward to more from this author.

Fives and Twenty-Fives, Bloomsbury USA – August 2014

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