ARUN RATH, HOST:
Why do we honor combat veterans? Air Force officer Jesse Goolsby has spent the last several years wrestling with that simple question. His new novel is called "I'd Walk With My Friends If I Could Find Them." It's a story about war and service seen through the eyes of three very different veterans.
JESSE GOOLSBY: We have Wintric Ellis, and he's really interested at the beginning of the novel of escaping this small town and seeing the rest of the world. And if that means aiming a gun for real in war, he's willing to accept that as his kind of way out. We also have Armando Torres, who joins the military for different reasons. He's raised in Colorado Springs, Colo., and I don't want to give too much away, but he has some familial issues but also find himself very quickly in Afghanistan. Finally, we have Dax, or Big Dax, as he's known. He's looking for a way out, looking for a sense of purpose in his life, trying to find out what's the next step after high school.
I think one of the things that the novel is really investigating is that this term veteran is really important to acknowledge - that there's a specificity with each one - why he joined, why he remains in and why he decides to separate.
RATH: And the diversity of these characters and their experience gets to - well, I think something that's interesting about this novel - because people will talk about this as a war novel. I mean, there are dog tags on the cover to be fair. But most of what's written here is about life in America.
GOOLSBY: You're absolutely right. One of the things I'm most interested in, not only is that specificity of a singular life and following that with the long view - I'm really interested in the proximity of violence, as much in the side streets and living rooms of America as in the war zone.
RATH: Right. And, you know, not to give away spoilers, but there are events in this novel that really drive home the fact that death, dismemberment, violence, violation are not restricted to a war zone -that, you know, these characters kind of get the sense - we get the sense with the character by the end of this that there's this way we fetishize war suffering.
GOOLSBY: We certainly do. It's the 30-second clip that you're going to get that's going to get your heart rate rising. And you won't change the channel. And so what I hope the novel does a little bit here is holds that mirror up not only in the conflict sphere but in that domestic sphere.
RATH: In covering such a span of time and a diverse group characters, it's almost like every aspect of life and loss is in there, including things that people don't like to talk about as much, such as one thing would be sexual assault in the military. It's a trauma that figures prominently in this book. Did you feel a particular responsibility to write about that?
GOOLSBY: Yes and no. I think as a writer approaching material, I want to do justice to the characters. But at the same time, there's no doubt that there were certain topics that were really important to me. And in the writing of this book, tackling the issue of sexual assault in general and specifically in the military was absolutely important to me. We know that sexual assault is an issue in our society at large and in the military, specifically.
RATH: Thinking about, you know, the tension between home life and life in the military - I had a conversation a couple of years ago with a colleague who's covered, you know, the American wars of the last 15 years. And we were recalling how immediately after 9/11, a lot of us felt that the military - that wall between the military and civilian life would break down. And then more than 15 years on, we are feeling like that hadn't really happened. What's your take on that?
GOOLSBY: Yeah, there's a lot of talk about the civilian-military divide. I think veterans and active-duty service members, we want to feel connection. We want to feel like our sacrifices and our service to the country, you know, is appreciated, and I think to a large extent it is.
The problem becomes - and it's a very complex problem - but one angle of it is from the military side, those who have seen combat - it's such a difficult thing, one, to work through and process. But I think at the core of it, we just want a conversation about what our country asks of us, and not just what our country asks of our service members, but what it asks of their families, of their friends and of their communities.
RATH: That's Jesse Goolsby. His new novel is called "I'd Walk With My Friends If I Could Find Them," and it's out now. Great talking with you, Jesse. Thank you.
GOOLSBY: Thank you so much for having me.
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