Against a realistic backdrop, Winner masterfully sets absurd characters in absurd scenes, highlighting the confusion in the characters' lives as well as the insanities of war. An incompetent American soldier they sneak up on initially assumes, from their put-on accents, that they’re Arabs, so Peter starts channeling tough-guy talk he vaguely recalls from old Kojak episodes–and pauses to reflect on the odd fact that both he and the soldier originally come from Virginia. The duo’s freed prisoner turns out to be as lost, physically and emotionally, as they are, and the police Peter and Leonard come up against are not thugs, just men trying to get through the day. Winner offers readers no heroes and no villains, but the characters never fail to engage even though the storytelling occasionally falters with awkward flashbacks.
Peter comes across as especially complex and appealing. Even with his obsessions and addictions, he longs for his wife and favors the language of a poet, not a freedom fighter: He travels with "Sarah’s shirt, the one that smelled so reassuringly of the soap she used." Despite his poses, he can’t forget who he really is–"the man on Manhattan Avenue who played with the fat cat at the local bodega…" As Peter desperately tries to get home, Winner makes clear that the most rewarding journeys are those we take within ourselves.
Takeaway: The troubled characters in this brisk story of the absurdity of war will resonate long after readers finish the book.
Great for fans of: David Abrams’s Fobbit, Phil Klay’s Missionaries.
Design and typography: A-
Marketing copy: B+