Author(s): Whitney Terrell
Whitney Terrell's remarkable novel of the Iraq War, The Good Lieutenant, literally starts with a bang, as an operation led by Lieutenant Emma Fowler goes spectacularly wrong. Men are dead - one, a young Iraqi, by her hand. Others of the casualties were soldiers in her platoon. And the signals officer, Dixon Pulowski. Pulowski is another story entirely - Fowler and Pulowski have been lovers since they first met at Fort Riley in Kansas ...From this conflagration, The Good Lieutenant unspools backward in time as Fowler and her platoon are guided into disaster by suspect informants and questionable intelligence, their very mission the consequence of a previous snafu in which an American soldier had been kidnapped by insurgents. We hear from Lieutenant Fowler but also the voices of jaded career soldiers and Iraqis both innocent and not so innocent. Ultimately, as all these stories unravel, Terrell reveals what can happen when good intentions destroy, experience distorts, and survival becomes everything. From a terrific writer at the top of his form, Whitney Terrell's The Good Lieutenant is a gripping, necessary novel about the war that is proving to be the defining tragedy of our time.
A gripping, insightful, necessary novel about a war that is proving to be the defining tragedy of our time.
Devastating ... Superb: [Terrell's] dialogue, his prose, the humane sorrow that suffuses his observations ... Startlingly original... The effect of [the reverse chronology] is first unsettling and then stunning, not the usual march toward postwar alienation but a gradual and heartbreaking reverse into pre-war purity. The result might be the best work of fiction the Bush wars have produced so far. Guardian Whitney Terrell has unwound the myths of one of our most encrusted literary forms - the war novel - and remade it to be humane and honest, glowingly new and true. Terrell knows his facts on the ground, but this is emphatically, triumphantly, a work of imagination and literary ingenuity. This is brilliant, bold, heartbreaking storytelling for material that demands nothing less. -- Adam Johnson Whitney Terrell's The Good Lieutenant is a terrific exploration of courage, leadership, and loss, as experienced by American soldiers in Iraq. Terrell captures the humanity and the absurdity of the conflict in a way that feels both specific to the Iraq conflict and also unnervingly timeless. A stunning and heartbreaking testament to Terrell's genius and the nature of modern war. -- Gillian Flynn Has the grand complexity of war embedded in its bones. It makes ingenious, compelling art out of those complexities. For that reason alone, its considerable graces are saving ones. -- Richard Ford A wild Humvee ride of a novel that embeds us so deeply and so sympathetically in its beautifully realized characters that we can scarcely draw breath until their journey comes to its harrowing conclusion. Whitney Terrell has written a deeply moving work of fiction to set beside Phil Klay's Redeployment and Kevin Powers's The Yellow Birds, with a singularity of vision uniquely its own. -- Joyce Carol Oates A stirring performance grounded in the hard realities of combat. The human beauty here is of the brutal variety-complex, dark, and impossible to forget. -- Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead Like all the best novels of war, Whitney Terrell's The GoodLieutenant lays bare the special misprisions, faulty intelligences, and colliding ironies that mark our most pitiable human endeavor. But the novel's brilliant masterstroke is its reverse narrative, which proposes an almost magical universe in which these exquisitely wrought figures, full of vulnerability, delicacy, and hope, gain a most amazing grace. This is an arrestingly ingenious achievement. -- Chang-rae Lee So exhilarating in its tautly rendered, faultless reality, so timeless in its play of human emotion in extremis, The Good Lieutenant dazzles and shames us as it breaks our hearts. The Good Lieutenant joins the ranks of great war novels that explain, too late, why 'victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.' -- Jayne Anne Phillips Terrell shows us how soldiers think and address one another with a stinging combination of military argot and pop culture references. Publisher's Weekly starred and boxed review Whitney Terrell has been in his career both a great novelist and a great war reporter. In The Good Lieutenant he is both, and the effect is overpowering. One job of the reporter is to use facts to let us understand who these men and women are whom we ask to kill and die for us. One job of the novelist is to use imagination to explain the interior lives of others and the infinite nuances of life. It is extraordinary and rare that one writer can do both, but Whitney Terrell does, and masterfully. -- Arthur Phillips
Whitney Terrell was an embedded reporter in Iraq during 2006 and 2010 and covered the war for the Washington Post, Slate, and NPR. He teaches creative writing at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and lives nearby with his family. He is the author of two previous novels.