Book Review: Story Of The Sand By Mark B. Pickering

July 17, 2008

When I was first contacted about receiving a review copy of “Story of the Sand” to write a review for ASM, I was pretty excited. From what I had heard, the book was about a veteran’s struggle to overcome the effects of PTSD, after he returned from Iraq. I was told that the author, Mark B. Pickering, had done a lot of research, interviewing veterans of World War II, Vietnam, Desert Storm and the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. This book wasn’t what I expected at all. I guess I was expecting actual stories from some of the veterans that Pickering interviewed, instead of a fictionalized version of what he heard from several veterans over the course of his interviews.

The story of the veteran related in the book, is the story of a Soldier who is suffering from an extremely severe case of PTSD. This particular Soldier not only struggled with what he saw in Iraq, but also the effects of an abusive childhood, which can and does have major impact on how that Soldier would react to the stressors he’s exposed to in combat. While there is no doubt that some Soldiers respond the way the Soldier portrayed in the book has, those extreme cases aren’t usually the norm. Adding into the fictionalized account, is the fact that the author also tells the story of a young man (the friend of the main character) who lost his leg in Iraq, only to come home and eventually die due to complications of an infection he got in his amputated leg. I think the one thing that had be the most disappointed is the portrayal of this character in the “afterlife” if you will. He would watch his wife and their child as they went about picking up the pieces of their lives following his death. He would have, often multiple conversations with the main character as he struggled to overcome everything from homelessness, desperation, paranoia and alcoholism, attempting to guide him as he continued to try to destroy his life. For myself, that made the book even more unrealistic. Having had the opportunity to deal with Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, on a daily basis in my job on one of the largest military installations in the US Military, I have to say that I’ve only had contact with a handful who’ve had this level of problems. Many will experience difficulty in adjusting when they first arrive home from the combat zone, most don’t experience the level of difficulties that are portrayed in “Story of the Sand.” I feel, that while Mr. Pickering may have interviewed veterans from different wars, that he chose the most extreme case or cases to portray in his book. I have to wonder if the main character, Sampson Roy, is actually a real person, or a person whose personality and story were formed from bits and pieces of the different veterans that Pickering interviewed during his research. I almost get the feeling that this novel is an attempt to shout to the world all that Pickering finds wrong with the military and the government, while not addressing the things the military IS doing to address the problems of PTSD and TBI and the substance abuse and homelessness that unfortunately sometimes goes hand in hand with these disorders. The novel doesn’t go into the fact that often those who suffer from these disorders, often don’t see themselves as having a problem and the fact that they often refuse seek treatment for these problems, even when those treatments are readily available to them.

While I agree that the military and the American society needs to do whatever is necessary to ensure that treatment is available for our returning veterans, we also have to acknowledge the fact that the military has stepped up their care for veterans returning and more and more is being done every day, to ensure that our Soldiers and Veterans receive the appropriate care for their problems. New methods of treatment are being explored and those that are proving to be successful are being incorporated into the treatment plans of the Soldiers seeking help.

Story of the Sand, might be an entertaining book to some, however, it covers a subject that I take seriously and I believe that the way it was written does more to cause harm to our Troops suffering from PTSD and other mental disorders related to their time in combat, by possibly causing people to look upon our returning Troops as people who have the extent of problems of the character in this story. I feel this story just detracts from the issue at hand, and will do more harm to our returning Troops, than it will to help them.

In my humble opinion, if you’re wanting to understand what our Troops and what they go through in combat and afterwards; and I mean to really understand, then I don’t feel that this book is the one to read. Instead, I would suggest, a book that is an actual first person account of what our Troops encounter, such as Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell or House To House by David Bellavia. Just my opinion, but Story Of The Sand isn’t a book that I would recommend to anyone who is wanting to learn about PTSD and how they could best help a Soldier or Veteran who is suffering from PTSD. Too much fiction and not enough reality.


13 Responses to “Book Review: Story Of The Sand By Mark B. Pickering”

  1. Iraq War Fiction « A Practical Policy on July 17th, 2008 8:31 am

    [...] WAR NOVELS: Story of the Sand - Mark B. Pickering Lost Boys - James Miller Zubaida’s Window - Iqbal Al-Qazwini The Ghost - Robert Harris  Like [...]

  2. Frank on July 24th, 2008 1:59 pm

    I liked the story. I did not read Story of the Sand with an expectation of gaining understanding about PTSD. I knew it was fiction because my copy says “Military Fiction” in the upper left corner of the back cover.

    I enjoyed the ghost element of the story. As far fetched as the idea of a ghost is, the way the author portrays the ghosts… they are almost believable. Makes you consider, what if it really is like that!

    I’m glad Pickering reveals Sampson Roy as having come from of an abusive childhood. Not only does that element contribute to his PTSD but the fact is, just about everyone walking on this planet comes from some form of abusive background. Abuse doesn’t always come from physical beatings. Even Beaver often told Wally he didn’t want to get yelled at by their dad. You hear this dialogue in almost every episode of Leave It To Beaver (LITB).

    Gee Wally, I didn’t tell dad cause I don’t want
    to get yelled at.

    But hey, guess what? 235 episodes later and Ward has never laid a hand on the Bev. Not once! But that didn’t stop the Bev from feeling abused. (Yes, I know… LITB was a fiction TV show.)

    I also enjoyed the journey Sampson Roy experienced as he tried to pull his life back together. I love how true to life the Sampson scenario is and how well he understands it. He knows he is bent and wants to get straight but doesn’t know how. The person who should stand by him (Mary) turns away and so does the VA and society. I think the way the author depicts society and the Department of Veterans Affairs is pretty much right on target.

    No book will please the mind of every reader. Story of the Sand will please those who enjoy a story told with a an edgy plot structure and dynamic character development. I would recommend this book to anyone that wants to be shocked and surprised with each turn of every page.

  3. Terri on July 24th, 2008 3:46 pm

    My biggest problem with the entire book, was because it was presented me as a book that could help Soldiers who suffer from PTSD. Having the experience of working in the military system and having the experience of dealing with PTSD sufferers, this book, in my personal opinion, based on my experiences, did not realistically portray what our Troops suffering from PTSD are going through. For myself, there was too much that was unrealistic. I’ve dealt with PTSD sufferers from some of the worse abusive backgrounds imaginable and yet, I’ve not seen one that experienced as many extremes as the character portrayed in this book. In the military system where I work, they’re doing everything possible to ensure our Troops are receiving care for their PTSD ….. including the VA. I’m sure that varies from area of the country to area of the country.

  4. Frank on July 25th, 2008 6:29 pm

    Okay… what I hear you saying is - I’m not reviewing this book for what it “is” rather I’m reviewing it on what I “expected”.

  5. Terri on July 25th, 2008 9:56 pm

    Actually no. I reviewed the book based on what I read, which to me, isn’t a book that is helpful for someone who wants to understand PTSD or one that will ‘help’ people who suffer from PTSD. Instead, it is a work of fiction, that is based on the most extreme case scenario of PTSD that one might see and one that in my experience is an unrealistic depiction, as the young man portrayed most likely was suffering from unresolved symptoms of PTSD before he ever experienced combat, which only would excaberate his PTSD. You’ve got a young man who lived in an abusive household, who was raped as a child by an uncle and joins the Army and deploys to Iraq. To me, having dealt with this issue a lot, the portrayal shows the ‘worse case scenario’ which is not what we see most of the time. I got the feeling from the book that the authors intent was to do whatever he could to make the military, the VA and our government out in the worse light possible. Which discredits the idea that he was attempting to show realistically what our Troops experience.

  6. Frank on July 25th, 2008 10:33 pm

    …and like I said, you are giving your review based on what you wanted to read vs what is written. This story is for people who want to be entertained and that is why it is military fictio! Not for people who want to be educated in the treatment of PTSD. The way this story is told… it will make one hell of a movie. Yeah, Hollywood is all about “keep you on the edge of your seat” not about “ teach you something”. That is what a documentary is all about. This book is not documentary material… it is feature film material!

    You were correct when you said “in my humble opinion”. People that say humble opinion mean, “listen to me because I want to be heard.” People who hope they are correct use that statement… “in my humble opinion… blah ba blah ba blah ba blah”. If the opinion is humble it is silent because no one ever hears it because no one ever speaks it because it is humble. There is a huge difference between someone that is educated with the talent to provide a “book review” and someone that offers a “humble opinion.”

    Just because you have a social worker associates degree and have treated PTSD patients doesn’t make you a book reviewer. Okay fine, you want to be credible… give the book a fair review without your preconceived ideals. Story of the Sand is one hell of a story. It is very well written. The plot structure is a perfect Joseph Campbell (Ordinary World –The Call to Adventure –Refusal of the Call –Meeting the Mentor –Crossing the First Threshold –Allies, Enemies and Tests –Approach the Inmost Cave–Supreme Ordeal –Reward –The Road Back –Resurrection –Return with the Elixir ) example and the character development has Arch that almost jumps off the page.

    So when you get a degree in Book Reviewing… let me know. Otherwise, take a look in the mirror and see the reflection. Because you are not reviewing this book……… you are just giving your uneducated opinion and masking it as a humble opinion which we all know is… blah ba blah ba blah ba blah.

  7. Terri on July 25th, 2008 10:47 pm

    Honestly Frank, I’m not going to sit here and argue with you. I was asked to provide my ‘review’ of the book and I did so, based on my opinion of what I read. That’s what ‘book reviews’ are all about, the reader’s opinion. Mine differs from yours ……. get over it. Last time I checked, each of us were entitled to our own opinions of what we read.

    It’s obvious Sir that you’ve got serious problems with the opinions of others. Perhaps you Sir are the one who is uneducated., and it’s obvious that you know nothing about me or my background, based on your ASSumptions of my education (which by the way is completely off mark).

    Regardless of my background and what I expected when I received the book and started reading it, I wasn’t impressed with the writing, the story line and plot. Your opinion is your opinion and yours alone. My opinion is mine and mine alone. I would never attack someone else because their opinion of a book or movie differed from mine, like you have here. That says a lot to me about your character, Sir.

    If your whole purpose is to attack me for the opinions I expressed about this book, then my advice to you is to go elsewhere. I’m as entitled to my opinion of this book as you are.

  8. preston on July 26th, 2008 7:42 am

    I want to jump in here. I read the book as well. And, like Frank, I liked it very much. I have known some people who have been in combat and how much they suffered when they came home. Terri is right in that he has a right to his opinion. But I think Frank is also right that it seems Terri didn’t like the book because it contrasted with his beliefs. I’m sorry Terri, but this book isn’t really political. If you were looking for it then I guess you can find it, but I didn’t find it. I have voted Republican my entire adult life (doubting I will do so in this election). I’m a fiscal and social conservative and when I bought the book I had a perception of what it would be that was turned on its head the first few chapters. However, although it is a disturbing story, I still read it and was surprised how much I liked it. I just couldn’t put it down! This guy is talented! Not being much of a fiction reader I thought I’d skim the book and get the gist but it doesn’t allow you to do that. But, I understand Terri’s problems with it. I couldn’t say EVERYONE would like it and if you are judging this based on REALITY than I think you are judging it wrongly. The only book I’ve read more than once is the Bible. And I don’t think everything that happened in the story is completely true but they are extremes to make a point, which I think is what Pickering did. Like Frank I found it just a damn good read. This book won’t change the world, but it will certainly be one you can’t forget.


  9. Terri on July 26th, 2008 9:16 am

    Preston you and Frank are as entitled to your opinion as anyone else is who visits this blog. However, I won’t have Frank attacking myself or anyone else who’s opinion differs from his. It just won’t be allowed.

    After the first few pages of the book, it was obvious to me that it wasn’t what was presented to me by the person from the publisher who sent me the book to review. That didn’t stop me from reading the entire book. I like nothing more than a good book that will keep my attention from start to finish. This wasn’t one of those books for me. I’m an avid reader and this just doesn’t happen to be the type of book that I enjoy reading.

    As with any other book that I read, I judged this book, based on the writing style, the story line and for me, it was severely lacking. But, that’s my opinion. You and Frank liked the book and that’s great. I’m glad you did, but it wasn’t something that I was overly impressed with. That doesn’t justify the insults and personal attacks towards me from Frank.

    I welcome challenges to my personal beliefs, but won’t tolerate it when they come in the form of insults and personal attacks. I’m always open to new information and new ideas.

    I’ll end by saying this…. my opinion is mine alone and I stand by my impressions of this book or any other book that I read and review here at A Soldier’s Mind. That doesn’t mean that I feel everyone else has to have the same opinion, because they don’t. Nor will I ever attempt to force someone to have the same opinion that I do. My opinions are based on my personal morals and values, my education and life experiences, just as everyone else’s are.

    If someone doesn’t like the information and opinions that we share here at A Soldier’s Mind, then my only advice to them, is that perhaps, they’d be better served to spend their time reading another blog or source of information. I won’t apologize for my thoughts and opinions, nor will personal insults and attacks change my views.

  10. preston on July 26th, 2008 10:21 am

    I was only commenting on your opinion with my own, Terri. I was not attacking it

  11. Terri on July 26th, 2008 11:00 am

    I didn’t make an accusation that you were Preston. Frank on the other hand, chose to insult and attack me.

  12. preston on July 26th, 2008 11:52 am

    Well, as you say it’s a subjective opinion. I suppose matters like this provoke strong responses. It is an emotional issue these days more than ever. I have no idea of Frank’s background, but reading his posts it sounds like he might be a veteran himself, or the family member of one. Having my own family in battle a lot of these scenerios rang true in the more radical sense. I had an Uncle in Vietnam who, when he came back, chose to sleep in the backyard and my Aunt would wake up with him screaming at the trees thinking they were vietcong. That character Sampson reminded me of him because he was also and incredible alcoholic who had a very bad relationship with his father. Some veterans are helped greatly, I suppose, But some fall so far down into the cracks they can become like the characters in this book. I guess that’s what Pickering was representing. I don’t know. But that’s what I guess.

  13. Terri on July 26th, 2008 1:44 pm

    Well I’m not going to make excuses for Frank or his behavior. I don’t have a problem with his opinion or anyone else’s, but, as I said, just because mine differs from his, is no excuse for personal attacks and insults. All that is, is a sign of immaturity.

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