In war, men and women are placed in unimaginable situations and forced to make decisions that no life lesson could have prepared them for, while surrounded by fear and carnage. From these untenable situations, much great literature has emerged.
Some of the greatest wartime literature is written by those who have experienced war and battle firsthand—Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller and Ernest Hemingway, to name a few. That is not to say that “Henry V” suffers because Shakespeare was not at Agincourt or that “The Red Badge of Courage” is lesser because Stephen Crane was never a soldier, but there is an element of the real in the works by authors who were in the fight. That element is palpable in Elliot Ackerman’s slender novel, “Waiting for Eden.”
Eden Malcom is a Marine who has returned to the U.S. after his vehicle in Iraq drove over a pressure plate. The explosion killed everyone inside the vehicle, except Eden. He is wounded so severely that many describe him as the most wounded soldier in the history of soldiering. He is trapped in his mind, without limbs to move or eyes to see.
Ackerman employs three different viewpoints in the narration to broaden the scope of his story and to give voice beyond Eden’s which is necessarily confined by his physical condition. One voice is Mary, Eden’s wife who is pregnant with their first child when he touches down at the hospital in Texas. The other is his best friend, who was killed in the explosion in Iraq. That voice follows his friend’s story from the limbo of the afterlife and provides perspective on Eden and Mary:
“I say this was the nearest version to the truth because the truth as I saw it, as their friend, was that they ran into each other because of the town. When I say they ran into each other, I don’t mean like they bumped into each other, I mean they were both running away when they met and these forces of flight played matchmaker surer than any homeroom class or semiformal dance.”
When all the machines that are keeping Eden alive are silenced, “Waiting for Eden” is a love story, but it is truly shaped by war and the injuries, both mental and physical, that arise from the battlefield.
“Waiting for Eden” poignantly underscores the truism that war is hell. As a Marine who served multiple tours of duty, Ackerman knows this better than most. “Waiting for Eden” also underscores the fact that war produces affecting literature that reverberates and echoes through time long after the guns and battlefields have fallen silent.