The Heart Locker

Something like Normal - Trish Doller

I do have to admit, I'm a sucker for a lot of the things this book had to offer, and I'm quite happy to finish this earlier than I'd have wanted with very few complaints. Although to be fair, Trish Doller could've padded this with 50 more pages of testosterone banter between Solo, Kevlar, CJ and yes, even Harper, I would STILL be complaining it's too short.

 

“Travis?”
“Yeah?”
“Go away.” She gives me a shove. “I have a shark to catch.”
Kevlar cracks up. “Ooh, Solo. Denied.”
“Hey, Kenneth, aren’t you going to introduce me to your date?” I reach into the live well and pull out a pilchard for my own hook. “Oh, wait. You don’t have one.”


One of my favorite short stories is Kurt Vonnegut's Long Walk to Forever, a story about an army soldier who went AWOL to win the affections the girl he's been in love with since they were kids and I expected this to be a somewhat expanded version of that. Well it wasn't, but I'm glad to be equally charmed by Travis and Harper as I was by Newt and Catharine.

 

THIS IS ME PIMPING LONG WALK TO FOREVER NOT SO SUBTLY. IF YOU HAVEN'T, GO READ IT NOW.


Okay, still with me? 

Something Like Normal is told from the perspective of Travis Stephenson who in escaping from the trappings and pressure of his normal, suburban American life found asylum and a different sense of family in the Afghanistan desert as a Marine. Granted a short leave from his service, he returns home haunted by his dead best friend and by the issues that have plagued his old life even before he left: parents he's detached from, a covetous younger brother, a past relationship that refuses to go away and the girl he'd done wrong in the past.

After having recently read two books dealing with heavy issues, a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder book doesn't seem like the best choice for me, but this was surprisingly light. This could've been taken to drama overdrive and exploited to subtly air out some political sentiments but I felt the story was very honest and respectful of the subject matter. And I truly appreciated the obvious research done here to vividly portray the little details in the lives of soldiers when they're in-country. For me, it gave better emotional weight to Travis' recollections. 

There's this one scene where CJ talks of real life not being big enough for Kevlar which, I guess, is true for all of them. Except that Travis is trying to adjust and find his footing again in all that mundane. I liked that. Often times (The Hurt Locker comes to mind) this is painted with the depressing hues of despair and irretrievable loss. I appreciate that I get a sense of hope for Travis' character without coming off too melodramatic or fantastical.

I'm a big fan of Travis' perspective and the testosterone humor is a very welcome balance to some of the heavy scenes while still managing to make him likable and charming. His thoughts and dialogue were believable and the way he reacted to every situation, be it his ex-girlfriend coming on to him or having a beer with his mother, was realistic.

 

I turn to leave and Paige is standing there, her mouth all smug. I hate how she does that.
“Rye’s looking for you,” she says. “He’s ready to go.”
“Okay.” My eyes wander down to her ass as I follow her out of the bar. Force of habit, I guess. Also, it’s nice. Kind of bubbly.


I should easily label him a dick, especially with what he did to Harper in the past. But his swoony lines and often not-so-smooth moves in winning her affections without coming off slick, redeemed him halfway. The rest of my heart was won by his moments with his mother. Okay maybe being the badass, honorable Marine isn't that bad, but I'm very glad that wasn't the end-all be-all of his character.

Harper was effortlessly likable, though I may have rolled my eyes over her essentially blaming Travis for her virginity but I liked that she wasn't a pollyanna but she isn't an over the top, yay feminism kind of heroine either. I was a bit disappointed with the Paige subplot because given the setting, it is one of the easiest, most overused sidestreet in New Adult Contemporary. I also did feel awkward in some of the scenes but more out of being ill-paced than the actual content, I found the family confrontation scene a bit on the hysterical-side: the non-laughing kind which might have improved had this book been a little longer.

But then again, that might just be me wanting to see Kevlar get burned over and over.

 

“Lots of fine, fine ladies here tonight, Kenneth,” I say. “Which one’s it going to be?”
“If I wanted a cougar, I’d do your mom.”
“Why? Getting tired of your own?”