In Accidental Exiles, author Bruce W. Perry wrangles his readers through the horrors of war, the empty apathy of expat life, the terrors of love and the impossibility of ever truly moving on. Weaving romance and philosophy into emotional narration and suspensful flashbacks, this is an unpredictable and gutting novel – one that will almost certainly leave you searching for the next book by Perry.
Jesse is the core of this novel – an Iraq veteran who couldn’t bear the normalcy of home, nor the insanity of combat. Caught in his own form of limbo, he embarks on the same lost journey of so many post-war writers and thinkers of the past. He loses himself in pastoral scenes that should inspire peace and calm, but he is inevitably drawn back to the demons of death that haunt him and seem to color every scene he sees.
The parallels to Fitzgerald and Hemingway are obvious, but a bit of Kerouac is also there. There is more disillusionment than self-aware apathy. Jesse seems pained to be the man the world has made him, but isn’t sure how to fix the problem. Seeking love in all the wrong (or right) places is a natural option, as well as falling in with a nondescript cast of characters who seem to view him from a constant distance, as though he can play a part, but never truly fool them about what he is.
There is a great deal of subtle writing and intense scenes packed with detail that can easily be missed or overlooked. That is the beauty of Perry’s terse, brief language, a la Hemingway. It leaves a great deal of room for readers’ interpretation, while still being viscerally emotional.
The changing timelines in the novel are composed of sharp juxtapositions that make readers sit up and take notice. Childhood recollections of bike rides in Plano, Texas butting up beside beachside romance in Switzerland gives a strangely disparate picture of Jesse, and yet he is always inevitably himself. No matter what haunts him, or who he tries to be, he isn’t an overly dynamic character – simply one who knows how to adapt. Bruce Perry has a wonderful base of a character in Jesse, and it would be interesting to see what happens next in his life.
The language is poetic and well-written, with character interactions that are crisp and packed with meaning. Great care with dialogue is obvious and poignant descriptions are everywhere, making this book a genuine pleasure to read. It is hard not to respect any author who is able to capture the terror and heartbreaking nature of war, while also detailing the delicate heartbreak of missed chances and lost love, and Perry achieves both with a deftly-subtle hand. The tone is consistent, the pacing is perfect, and the plot is striking in a way that fiction often lacks.
Accidental Exiles is an anachronistic tale, relevant to today, but seemingly ripped out of the past. Like its main character, it doesn’t have a definite place, but the story has real power, which makes it well worth the read.
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