Benjamin Walker survived a military transport crash and a hellish firefight, but he was the only member of his company to do so. He has returned stateside with a medical retirement and enough guilt to smother him. Panic attacks, nightmares, and uncontrollable rage become his new norm and he is reduced to a kind of half-life that leaves him without purpose or direction. After months of struggling to hold everything together, Benjie makes the fateful decision to end his life. But at the top of a bridge, he finds he is not alone. He meets Nick, beaten down by his own demons, scared and weary. Both men have been through hell, but together they might just be able to find some measure of peace and maybe even a new lease on life.
Initially, Evac captured my interest in a big way, but I grew increasingly frustrated as the book progressed. The first quarter of Evac is fast paced and engaging. We are witness to Benjie’s terrible ordeal in Afghanistan and the initial stages of his recovery in Germany. This portion of Evac feels visceral and my heart broke for Benjie and all that he endured. He is always a sympathetic character and, while some of his actions seem out of place, his pain and suffering always feels real. His rage, hopelessness, and desperation read as a natural extension of his experiences in war and his response to them humanizes Benjie in a way that I think will allow most readers to easily connect with him.
It is upon his discharge from the hospital where the plot starts to unravel and the pacing becomes uneven. There are too many unrealistic situations during the middle portion of the novel that distract from Benjie’s actual suffering and fail to provide any forward motion to the narrative. For example, we’re told that Benjie is hospitalized for weeks after the firefight, but at no point is his family contacted. While he isn’t exactly close to them, they aren’t estranged, and this just didn’t ring true. He is discharged due to a mistake, which reads as nothing more than a convenient plot device, and is sent home with the clothes on his back, his military ID, and nothing else. He never undergoes any debriefing about the attack that we’re aware of and isn’t given any sort of readjustment support once he returns to the states. I am not in the military so I can’t say if this is this actually how it happens or not, but it just didn’t read as very realistic.
Perhaps my biggest issue involves Benjie’s foray into BDSM. Guilt drives him to seek pain, first fulfilled through risky one-night stands and then to a demonstration night at a local BDSM club. He likes what he sees and decides to give it a try. Within twenty-four hours he agrees to participate in a public demonstration at the club that, of course, goes badly. He continues to engage in pain sessions until another Master goes too far and he walks away. Very little of this portion of the plot makes much sense. The club he goes to seems utterly off the rails. They claim to vet their members, but Benjie encounters not one, but two dangerous situations. Benjie himself is just accepted as a willing participant without anyone seriously looking into why he has come to the club and he becomes a regular over the course of a few weeks. He has little to no training with regards to his safety during a session and while Benjie voices consent, there is the feeling that he has no real idea of what he is doing. I believe the BDSM practices portrayed in Evac were poorly done and not truly reflective of the lifestyle. Additionally, the entire thing seems unnecessary. It does nothing but reinforce Benjie’s need for pain, which was already adequately demonstrated in other ways through the book.
The last third of Evac concerns Benjie’s decision to end his life and him meeting Nick. We never get to know Nick very well and his connection with Benjie feels sudden and rushed. They barely know each other, but their relationship progress with ridiculous speed. As a reader I was certainly happy to see Benjie discover some happiness, but it seems as soon as he meets Nick many of his problems are, if not resolved, then made less important. The author spends much of Evac stressing to the reader the devastating effects of PTSD, but then seems to suggest the only thing Benjie needs to recover is Nick. This undermines Benjie, his pain, and the real life importance of this condition.
I appreciated Evac and its author’s attempt to tackle such an emotionally difficult topic and Benjie is certainly a character to root for. But over the top scenarios, an unevenly paced plot, and a completely unnecessary detour into BDSM left me disappointed.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.