“Casualties” by Elizabeth Marro is a very powerful and heart wrenching novel. With war at the core of the theme it is a reminder how those serving and their families have sacrificed. There are also other themes of abandonment, prioritizing, loss, and recovery. Although this is her first book the well-developed story and characters make it appear that Marro is a seasoned author.
Considering herself, just a “civilian,” she said, “I am one of 99 percent of Americans relying on 1 percent of my fellow citizens to defend this country. I felt my biggest responsibility is to portray Robbie, a Marine who commits suicide, accurately. I did a lot of research and was humbled by the stories of veterans and families who struggled and continue to struggle with the aftermath of our most recent wars. It mattered a great deal for me to try to understand all the emotional aspects.”
Shortly after the book begins the main character, Ruth Nolan, experiences a terrible loss, a parent’s worse nightmare, having a child die. But the loss is even more impactful because her son commits suicide while she is handling an emergency at work. Trying to escape the guilt Ruth packs up his ashes and decides to leave her past demons behind. She is helped with facing up to her past choices by a former soldier, Casey MacInerney, whom she meets under dubious circumstances. They agree to go on a cross-country journey together, both figuratively and literally. Their emotional survival depends on trusting each other, helping each other soul search as they attempt to make amends.
Marro noted, “I knew that Ruth needed someone to help her find her way, and it couldn’t be anyone from her past world. Casey arrived unexpectedly. They both examine what would happen if they altered just one of their decisions. If you go on that road and damage has been done, how do you pick up, get back on your feet, and keep on going. They both struggle to take responsibility for their actions. I wanted this story to be driven by the characters. If I know whom these people are I can figure out where the plot needs to go so it does not appear artificial. This is definitely a character driven plot.”
In many ways Casey and Ruth are kindred spirits. Both are lonely, feel isolated, are affected by war, and must learn how to deal with grief. They let down those close to them and realize what their priorities should have been after the fact. The question of when does work come before family and how should both be balanced are themes throughout the book.
Although “Casualties” is not a happily-ever-after story, it is very thought provoking. It examines such important societal issues as when to prioritize family over career, war veterans having suicidal thoughts, PTSD, and how to manage and overcome guilt to move on with one’s life. As the story progresses readers will sympathize and root with these realistic characters.