The Knife: Ross Ritchell
Adult Military Drama
Rating: 5 Stars
After I finished this book, I was left flipping back through it, turning the pages in my hands and rereading, reliving the pieces that brought me to the ending, which managed to surprise me, despite my every attempt to nail down the ultimate conclusion. There are so many little great moments, slivers that showcase poignant juxtapositions of brutality and humanity, indifference and brotherhood, humor and heartbreak. Together, they tell a story that is both hauntingly distant and intensely personal.
The comparison has been made before, but it was strikingly similar to "The Things They Carried," which remains one of my favorite novels. The prose is simple and effective, illustrating the bleakness and beauty of their surroundings, cutting to the core of every interaction with minimalistic but incredibly believable dialogue. Each of the five characters on the team is distinct and well developed. I can't understand how some people believe there's poor character development. They all have their little idiosyncrasies, odd bits that contrast with their profession and ultimately make them more endearing. Even the least-heard-from character, Cooke, has a few stand-out moments that aptly color an entire personality in a collective few paragraphs.
The pace moves swiftly, and though some action is skipped over and told in retrospect, I think it helps the novel overall. It isn't about who shoots whom, or which buildings explode and which don't. It's about what happens between the violence, the anticipation and the comedown, the moral quandaries they face together, the 5:00 AM musings as their boots strike the tarmac and the friendly trash talk as they stay sharp on the range.
The book shines in its detail and its authenticity. There are a lot of undefined abbreviations, but the glossary in the book clarifies them all, and the lack of on-page explanation actually improves the readability of the text. Early on, there would be 5-6 explanations on a single page, which would bring the pace to a grinding halt were every term poured over. The early bits are fascinating, finding out how teams operate, delving into a world of grease, chaw, and lead headfirst as you're immersed in their day-to-day lives, from the harsh to the mundane to the disgustingly hilarious (thanks, Hagan).
Everything is understated here. Nothing is oversold, and some of the most intense parts feel detached and mechanical, only for the emotion to surface in the aftermath. It's a hard balance to strike, but it was absolutely nailed. Everything means something. It's one of the best books I've read in years. And at the end of it all, you're left with a hollow feeling that defies words and leaves you sitting in silence, thumbing back through the pages.