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The Long Walk

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The majority of the narrative takes place in Iraq, following Castner on bomb-scouting missions. But even the scenes of home life intermingle and intersect with the war scenes, sometimes in the middle of sentences. This stylistic choice is just another way that Castner demonstrates how invasive the war becomes in his life. At home, Castner is fighting a seemingly intractable battle with his “Crazy”. The Crazy is a complicated mental and physical state, which includes, but is not limited to, extreme physical anxiety, obsessive thinking, and self-loathing. The Crazy causes Castner’s left eye to twitch uncontrollably. It makes his heart pound and his throat close. It takes form as a hairy spider that periodically crawls out of a hole in his head. And most places he goes, the Crazy causes Castner to see a severed foot sitting in a cardboard box.

One afternoon, while searching for a bomb that killed 15 of Kurdish elders in a Chai shop, Castner discovers a horribly disfigured foot, detached from its leg, sitting in a box on the table. The scene around him is truly gruesome (“an unidentifiable organ here, half a scalp there"), but Castner can only marvel at the absurdity of what’s directly in front of him. “Someone had put a foot in a box,” he writes. “I laughed. I couldn’t help it. They must have found the foot at the scene and stuck it in the box for safekeeping. It makes sense, right? Why not put the foot in the box?”

On page one, Castner says he doesn’t know where his Crazy came from. But it doesn’t take long before he’s answered it ten times over. The real question, it seems, isn’t why Castner goes crazy but why every the other soldier like him doesn’t. And this might lead you to wonder: is this book simply a memoir – one man’s long walk – or it is a scathing critique of soldiering itself? There is certainly much to suggest the former. Castner tells us what he is thinking and feeling at all times and has the magnificent ability to fill his scenes with the suspense of the moment. Will he shoot the screaming women at the Iraqi gas station? Will he make it out of the American airport without his Crazy causing him to inflict destruction upon all? In these moments, Caster’s Crazy is like a shadow moving of its own free will. We are standing right beside Castner, waiting to see what it will make him do. In those moments, Castner lays himself bare and makes us feel his vulnerability; he doesn’t know the answer any more than we do.

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