Our War by Craig DiLouie
Political novels usually fall into two categories. Some books take themselves very seriously, composed of intellectual arguments thinly veiled with story. Others are entertaining airport/beach books that take today’s headlines and run to extremes, working out our culture’s hot-button issues in a big, perhaps cathartic splash of melodrama. Our War by Craig DiLouie certainly belongs to the latter category, depicting a near-future civil war in a United States only one leap from current events.
In this world, the president refuses to leave office after he’s impeached, which is certainly a chilling scenario. DiLouie chose a different five-letter name for this fictional president, President Marsh, but the comparison to the current occupant of the White House are blunt. In this version, the country fractures and quickly descends into physical combat, and the story is set in an Indianapolis under siege by rebel forces who support the president.
A bit too quickly to be plausible, really. We’re suddenly in an American city with front lines and trenches, where a UN aid worker and a journalist can witness wartime chaos in an Indianapolis hospital that’s short on drugs, staff, and electricity.
Even the corridors were filled with people. Aubrey said they were Indy 300, Black Bloc, civilians, even a few rebels, all casualties from the Brickyard Crossing offensive in the north. It was hard to look at them and not picture what they’d been before. The militiawoman groaning from a gunshot wound, was she a housewife, a bank teller, a CEO? The twentysomething with his hand blown off, did he have big dreams, a girlfriend, savings for his first home? The war had erased everything and reset it to zero. It had reduced everyone to perpetrator, victim, or both.
Readers looking for fluffy escapism during our turbulent times obviously should shop elsewhere. Those who want to see their darkest fears spin out to extremes, on the other hand, can revel in this violent soap opera.
For the sake of loose accuracy, the cast consists mostly of recognizable political characters. The anti-president militias defending the city are represented in the book mostly by the Free Women, who raise their fists as a symbol of their commitment to equality and justice. The rebels hoping to take the city worship the second amendment and spout rightwing talking points and homophobia, and DiLouie often nails these characters’ descriptions.
The rebels, for instance, believe in “(g)overnment small enough to fit in a toilet, where it could be properly flushed.” According to their new teenage recruit, Alex, “Whatever they’d been before, they’d found a higher purpose here, fighting their civil war with a mix of conviction and cosplay…. He’d try to believe, if only to belong.”
Some such pithy lines land and others fall flat, and the story is fine enough, satisfying the expectations of thriller readers and including many gasp- and/or grimace-inducing scenes. On a more granular level, perhaps in order to rush the book to market while the issues were fresh, the quality of the writing suffers from clunky flashbacks, whiplashing character emotions, and some language so cliché and vague as to be meaningless.
Even if the patriots win, they won’t really win, and while the shooting might stop, the war they fought would never end.
Crystal-clear motivations, right there! Still, airplane and beach books should be judged more on entertainment value than literary merit. This tale was a melodramatic splash of worst-case-scenario spread over 400 easy-reading pages that served as both a distraction and a cathartic purging of fear and uncertainty.