Fiction, Reviews

Review: “Revenants: The Odyssey Home”

Author: Scott Kauffman

Kindle Edition: 275 pages

Publisher: Moonshine Cove Publishing, LLC

Release Date: 23 December 2015

Author Requested Review

3 STARS

This book was always going to have an epic hill to climb as a re-telling of Homer’s “The Odyssey”. By its very nature it was going to have to be expansive both in time and location, not to mention language and structure – all very problematic for an author… There are some elements of this that Scott Kauffman has really nailed and, as to be expected, others that slip through his grasp. In light of this, I am completely torn with this book.

A grief-stricken candy-striper serving in a VA hospital following her brother’s death in Vietnam struggles to return home an anonymous veteran of the Great War against the skullduggery of a congressman who not only controls the hospital as part of his small-town fiefdom but knows the name of her veteran. A name if revealed would end his political ambitions and his fifty-year marriage. In its retelling of Odysseus’ journey, Revenants casts a flickering candle upon the charon toll exacted not only from the families of those who fail to return home but of those who do.

The bulk of this historical, coming-of-age novel deals with the story of Betsy, a teenage girl who is recruited to serve as a volunteer nurse during the summer holidays after her brother is killed in Vietnam. Whilst at the VA hospital, she learns of a mysterious patient in the attic and becomes embroiled in attempting to discover his identity.To be honest, it’s here on this smaller stage – one summer, in a small mid-west town, that Kauffman produces some of his best writing. I really enjoyed the mystery element of the book – it had pace and you definitely felt drawn into wanting to solve the puzzle. Kauffman, through the narrative voice, creates genuine sympathy for Betsy here, and you are able to watch her mature and deal with her grief as the story develops, much more so than the first person ‘Betsy’ moments at the start and end.

Kauffman’s use of Homer’s non-linear narrative and shifts in perspective can  make it  hard to follow at times though, and it often doesn’t endear you to the characters, especially Betsy, at the start of the novel. It is worth pushing through though. The main bulk of this story about the effect of war on not only soldiers, but their loved ones, is very touching and has some really beautiful and unexpected poetic description.

Overall I found myself really drawn into the story after getting through the first few chapters. It’s certainly worth  persevering with this novel, it is extremely detailed in its research – so much so that as a Brit I had to look up several references to US pop-culture! And you get a strong sense of the characters and the worlds they inhabit. This is a solid bet if you are looking for something that explores the aftermath of war more than a war itself and whilst there are plenty of nods to “The Odyssey”, particularly in the repeated imagery and themes of homecoming and fate, it has its own charm.

Thanks to Scott Kauffman for making a copy of this novel available to me for review.

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