I just wrote something very close to the following (it’s been very lightly edited for blog-worthiness) in a personal email and thought it was worth sharing here.
I didn’t write PMT only because I wanted to tell a story – I wrote it because the experience of Ian being in Iraq was so overwhelmingly … overwhelming (!) and so many other people were experiencing the same thing that I knew it was one of the sides / impacts / experiences of war that more people should be aware of. I knew it was something that would be easy for those who had never lived it to disregard unless they knew more about it.
One of the facets of Pretty Much True… is its chronicling of the slow emotional breakdown of someone whose love is deployed. While I don’t know whether PMT would be good for people who are currently having a hard time with a deployment (a military spouse who recently read it said it made her feel less alone, but someone else might read it and feel worse as a result – hard to say), I do think it’s at the very least a valuable illustration of the very real emotional impact of being at home during war time when the one you love is sent to fight in it.
It’s possible that the fact that it’s fiction – with characters and subplots and all the stuff that belongs in fiction – might make it less obvious a choice as a potentially valuable tool for understanding something like this, but fiction has long helped people understand experiences others are having – think Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Things They Carried and how those fictional tales have helped society have a closer look at something they would otherwise have no such honest and raw access to. (I’m NOT saying my book is comparable to theirs. Nor am I saying it’s not. I’m only speaking to the valuable role of fiction in general.)
Sarah Ikena (Army Wife Talk Radio host) told me that when she talks to people about deployment, she often brings up Pretty Much True… because, she says, “I don’t think we do anyone any favors by telling people to ‘chin up.’ Books like Pretty Much True… will lead the change to be able to truly help spouses.”
I don’t think people understand, really, why a military spouse might feel suicidal. “She’s at home. What’s she have to be suicidal about?” While the character in my book doesn’t necessarily consider suicide, she does go pretty far down the road and is so mentally out of it that she sets the tree on fire in her apartment, endangering her own life as well as the lives of others. Readers might actually have a much more complete understanding of just how much a deployment messes with your head if they’re able to become engrossed in a story that forces them to feel it. They might even understand how a spouse at home could suffer PTSD.
That kind of understanding is absolutely essential.
I don’t know why I’m telling you this. Maybe in case you can find some way for my book to help someone, somehow. I’m not a great activist, and I’m not a politician. I do my communicating through writing. I can only hope I’m able to do some good with it.