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.