"Brief Encounters With The Enemy" by Said Sayrafiezadeh

An interesting read. Not a novel but not quite a short story collection either, although it is made up of short stories. The stories in this book are all linked together, although each one could very easily stand on their own. This collection is more thematic than it is an anthology like most short story collections. 

 

All the stories take place in an unnamed city - presumably an American city - and each of these characters lives all exist in the more downtrodden, working class neighborhoods. They are janitors, cobblers, supermarket baggers, coffee stand workers, call center workers, illegal immigrants doing what they can to get by, and in some cases employees for Walmart. They are all a peek into the humdrum lives of white working class America, stuck in dead end jobs, unlucky in love (or having hard time pursuing love), with apparently nothing but a bleak future ahead of them. There is a war on - and the war figures into all of these stories - mainly in the background, except for the title story, where one soldier eager to encounter his “enemy” finally comes to fruition in the most brutal way. The characters that remain stateside are all well aware of the war but it seems distant, almost unreal, until, of course, some close acquaintances are touched by it - and even then there are those who are envious of the returning soldiers who are treated like heroes when just a few weeks earlier they were part of the same drab existence as everyone else - going nowhere - and fast. 

 

The author takes great care not to insert his own feelings and opinions into these tales. He lets them be, lets the characters and their actions do all the talking. I can’t help but feel, as a collection, that it speaks to our complete disconnection to the wider world. Even the city in which they dwell seems suffocating, like a prison in which there is no way out. Not even for the soldiers, who after returning from the war find themselves right back where they started - going back to work for the same dead end, low paying jobs that they had left behind. There is most definitely a much larger social theme here and the reader can sense the slow decay, although there are some funny and lighthearted moments here as well. 

 

There isn’t much variety in these stories, and some are clearly better than others, but it will give the reader something to think about - mainly where we are in early 21st century America - feeling disconnected, lost, where dreams of a better life are just out of reach for so many. 

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