The Good Lieutenant: Book summary and reviews of The Good Lieutenant by Whitney Terrell

The Good Lieutenant

by Whitney Terrell

The Good Lieutenant by Whitney Terrell X
The Good Lieutenant by Whitney Terrell
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  • Published in USA  Jun 2016
    288 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

Brilliantly told and expertly captured by a terrific writer at the top of his form, Whitney Terrell's The Good Lieutenant is a gripping, insightful, necessary novel about a war that is proving to be the defining tragedy of our time.

The Good Lieutenant literally starts with a bang as an operation led by Lieutenant Emma Fowler of the Twenty-seventh Infantry Battalion goes spectacularly wrong. Men are dead - one, a young Iraqi, by her hand. Others were soldiers in her platoon. And the signals officer, Dixon Pulowski. Pulowski is another story entirely - Fowler and Pulowski had been lovers since they met at Fort Riley in Kansas.

From this conflagration, The Good Lieutenant unspools backward in time as Fowler and her platoon are guided into disaster by suspicious informants and questionable intelligence, their very mission the result of a previous snafu in which a soldier had been kidnapped by insurgents. And then even further back, before things began to go so wrong, we see the backstory unfold from points of view that usually are not shown in war coverage - a female frontline officer, for one, but also jaded career soldiers and Iraqis both innocent and not so innocent. Ultimately, as all these stories unravel, what is revealed is what happens when good intentions destroy, experience distorts, and survival becomes everything.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. [Terrell] shows us how soldiers think and address one another with a stinging combination of military argot and pop culture references. The book's last line echoes the title of one of the first novels about modern warfare, Thomas Boyd's Through the Wheat (1923), to which this novel is an entirely worthy successor." - Publishers Weekly

"Informed witness; overly complicated storytelling." - Kirkus

"Reveling in earthy banter and gritty details, Terrell offers grim realism. But much of the novel's war-story bravado is undone by its reverse chronology, which cleverly destabilizes expectations of closure, sidelining questions about the who, what, when of Fowler's failed raid to raise more difficult questions about the meaning of it all. The result is a sad and memorable tale of thwarted optimism, incomplete intimacy, and collateral damage." - Booklist

"Terrell captures the humanity and the absurdity of the conflict in a way that feels both specific to the Iraq conflict and also unnervingly timeless. A stunning and heartbreaking testament to Terrell's genius and the nature of modern war." - Gillian Flynn

"[T]he novel's brilliant masterstroke is its reverse narrative, which dispels the primacy of destiny and instead proposes an almost magical universe in which these exquisitely wrought figures, full of vulnerability, delicacy, and hope, gain a most amazing grace. This is an arrestingly ingenious achievement." - Chang-rae Lee

"The Good Lieutenant has the grand complexity of war embedded in its bones. It makes ingenious, compelling art out of those complexities. For that reason alone, its considerable graces are saving ones." - Richard Ford

"Whitney Terrell has been in his career both a great novelist and a great war reporter ... One job of the novelist is to use imagination to explain the interior lives of others and the infinite nuances of life. It is extraordinary and rare that one writer can do both, but Whitney Terrell does, and masterfully." - Arthur Phillips

"The Good Lieutenant is a wild Humvee ride of a novel that embeds us so deeply and so sympathetically in its beautifully realized characters - a young woman lieutenant and her platoon of male soldiers - that we can scarcely draw breath until their journey comes to its harrowing conclusion. Whitney Terrell has written a deeply moving work of fiction to set beside Phil Klay's Redeployment and Kevin Powers's The Yellow Birds, with a singularity of vision uniquely its own." - Joyce Carol Oates

"The Good Lieutenant is a stirring performance grounded in the hard realities of combat. The human beauty here is of the brutal variety - complex, dark, and impossible to forget. Lieutenant Emma Fowler is our guide into a contemporary heart of darkness. This novel should be read by all." - Anthony Swofford

"So exhilarating in its tautly rendered, faultless reality, so timeless in its play of human emotion in extremis,The Good Lieutenant dazzles and shames us as it breaks our hearts... The Good Lieutenant joins the ranks of great war novels that explain, too late, why 'victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.'" - Jayne Anne Phillips

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Author Information

Whitney Terrell

Whitney Terrell is the Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He is a graduate of Princeton University and has an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. His first novel, The Huntsman, was a New York Times notable book. His nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, Details, Harper's Magazine, The New York Observer, The Kansas City Star, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was an embedded reporter in Iraq during 2006 and 2010 and covered the war for The Washington Post Magazine, Slate, and NPR. He was born and raised in Kansas City.

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