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New Yorker Fiction Review: "Peacetime" by Luke Mogelson

Issue: April 27, 2015

Story: "Peacetime" by Luke Mogelson

Rating: $$$

Review: I like a raw, gritty story. I like an original voice. I like writing that disorients me for a moment, takes me a few paragraphs or pages to get used to, and then sucks me in and doesn't let me go until the last word. Therefore, I found a lot of entertainment and value in "Peacetime," by Luke Mogelson.

"Peacetime" is set in modern day New York City (lot of NYC stories lately, right??) and takes place over the course of a few weeks in the life of the narrator, whom we know only as Papadopoulos, an Iraq war veteran who is now a paramedic, living in the Armory on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. Estranged from his wife and living on the fringes of what might be called "normal" society, Papadopoulos has returned from the horrors of the Iraq war only to face equivalent horrors -- some of them really unthinkable -- every day in his job right here at home. When he finally gets the courage to go back and face his wife, he finds out she's long-since taken off with her new boyfriend, and that his old house is empty. Incapable of returning to the normalcy of his life before the war, he seems stuck in a nether world of violence and his own unwilling exile into the dark corners of society with others who've been damaged by the war.

The Author
What makes "Peacetime" so interesting is that it requires you to read beyond what the narrator is telling you. Papadopoulos is pretty matter-of-fact when relating the macabre details of his daily job, but what's really behind all of that is the fact that part of him needs the violence, or at the very least his time in a war zone so inured him to violence that his comfort with it is a marketable skill.

Furthermore, this same comfort and familiarity with trauma is what now makes him different from people like his wife, who is long gone, or his old neighbor, whom he talks to for a moment when looking for his wife and who expresses -- probably like most non-combatant, non-military types -- very little understanding or genuine sympathy for what Papadopoulos has been through. The only person Papadopoulos can really related to his his friend and co-worker Karen, who is bound to become a police officer, but they have nothing close to a "relationship" that might help Papadopoulos deal with some of his issues.

"Peacetime" unique in that it deals with some really heavy issues -- disillusionment, alienation,
emotional stress, mental trauma and recovery -- through the fractured and debatably un-reliable lens of the story's own subject. It's like learning about the effects of an experimental drug by listening to what's going on in the brain of the poor unfortunate laboratory rat; the true effects are probably more difficult to decipher and understand, but that much more real and heartbreaking.

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