The Good Lieutenant
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 the voice of Lieutenant Fowler but also those 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.
Unforgettable . . . a structure that works brilliantly, making for a memorable study of Fowler, whose pure intentions we see slowly corroded by combat . . . Terrell gets to the heart of how war changes people.
[The Good Lieutenant] steadily infuses its characters with depth and humanity and lays out the dubious intelligence and errors that led them to catastrophe . . . Powerful and sometimes heartbreaking.
If only people read more novels like this one, told backward from a young woman’s experience in Iraq back to her innocence in the American Midwest, we might think twice about sending soldiers to war.
Best books of 2016, Boston Globe