An emotional, well written book about two men with PTSD, family and finding what's needed to make the best out of life.
- Review by Kazza K
Neil Dalton has PTSD. He has nightmares, won't catch a train, now smokes like a chimney, where he's given up before. Same pattern - take it up before Thanksgiving, give it up in the new year. He isn't rapt living in Chicago, but he has a job there with a decent boss, decent pay and a decent counsellor. One night, coming back from his counsellor, his best friend, and ex youthful lover of sorts, Jeremy, is waiting for him. It's freezing, Jeremy isn't dressed for the weather, and Neil is very surprised to see him. Turns out an ex lover of Jeremy's, who wanted more from Jeremy and wasn't happy it wasn't going to be forthcoming, has deliberately let the cat out of the bag about Jeremy's sexual orientation to his family. Unfortunately they are total arseholes and are none to happy, refusing to pick him up from the airport after his return from his final tour of duty.They don't want him and his 'gayness' back home. Fullstop. So Jeremy hops a bus, goes to Chicago, and finds Neil.
Jeremy Kelley is not doing well either. He has been in the army for eight years. He has returned from 3 tours of duty in a messed up way. He hasn't had therapy but knows he has PTSD, seen too many others with it, and suicides, not to know. Neil is kind and automatically offers Jeremy a roof over his head, and food. They share a bed in Neil's small apartment, because there's no alternative, it's not sexual; neither sleep much, and when they do they both have PTSD induced nightmares. Neil doesn't know what's going on with Jeremy. Hasn't the energy to pry. Jeremy knows something bad has happened to Neil, but can't get Neil to talk to him. Neil shuts it down, but Jeremy's seen those same eyes on traumatized military staff and wonders what could have happened in civilian life to have done this to Neil. He doesn't want to push and lose his friend.
It isn't long before Christmas when Jerry turns up. Neil is going home to Nebraska for the holidays with his parents, which is just another stressor. Neil's parents like Jeremy so Neil feels bringing him along will help put a spacer between him and his parents, give them something else to focus on and give Jeremy a Christmas with a family. It will also give him a 'friendly' while he's there. Jerry describes Neil's family as loving, willing to do anything for their children. Neil let's us know they are...so long as you're not gay. That is not something up for discussion, that gets left at the front door and does not get brought up. So it's denial from his parents and Neil can't discuss something so important and devastating with them that it's adding to his distress. And they're none the wiser about heir son's hurt through their own uptight ignorance with regards to his sexual orientation -
"It's just that they think I'm depressed because I'm depressed. Mom thinks I need medication. Dad thinks I need to leave Chicago." I shook my head. "They have no idea why."
"Do they ask."
"They do," I said. "But I couldn't tell them if I wanted to."
"Can you tell me?"
I closed my eyes and blew out some smoke again. I didn't want to talk about it . Ever.
Eventually Neil opens up to Jeremy, and Jeremy to Neil. It gives them something to anchor to one another with after a five year hiatus from each others lives. Jeremy in Iraq, Afghanistan. Neil living and working in Chicago and going through something life-changing.
We get to learn bits and pieces of Neil and Jeremy's life growing up as best friends in Omaha. Their two interesting but failed attempts at being lovers. It isn't done via flashbacks, rather two men reminiscing through circumstances, like an ice cream parlour, Harvey's, that used to be all over Nebraska but isn't anymore. They found it in Des Moines though and got excited and thoughts went back to youthful good times. They also reminisce when catching up with a friend that they went to school with, laughing about certain things they used to get up to when they were younger.
We also discover that both men have been holding a torch for each other for years, but there have been/are issues in the way. However seeing both of their thoughts allows us to know what is going on inside about one another - their desire, their concerns. There are some rather beautiful moments in the book - the bridges of Madison County being one of those. The way Jeremy helps Neil talk, let's him be quiet, when needed. The way Neil helps 'ground' Jeremy after bowling becomes too much noise and chaos to bear. The way Jeremy is a conduit for communication in Neil's household.
The PTSD is not played up to the reader. It's there but it's less than I thought it may be. It is handled well and sensitively by Ms Witt. The therapy is lean but the concept of grounding was written well, was correct, and all done in a nice easy manner for the reader. There are no great harrowing flashbacks but realistic dissociative moments. Anxieties, reactions to noise, crowds, triggers....
Things I liked -
I liked both of the MC's, wanted them to find happiness. They deserved it.
I liked Bruce's parents, they were lovely people.
The writing was excellent.
The psychology was sound.
There are some beautiful moments - I won't ever forget the (actual) bridges of Madison County
There is some great dialogue. Humorous at times -
"Dude, I think I just found what I'm wearing to Christmas Eve dinner." Neil looked up, eyebrows raised. "Oh?" I showed him the sweater, which was the most retina-searing pink with Donning Me Now My Gay Apparel emblazoned across the front in rainbow sequins.
"That is the most awesome shirt I have ever seen."
"So I can wear it?" I asked.
...and it was often emotive, biting and accutely observational, in that way a major life-event can shape you -
Maybe I was just realizing what people meant when they talked about losing their innocence, and thinking about what life was like just a few years ago, I realized how long gone my innocence was. Mine and Neil's both.. The kids we were back then were as good as strangers to us now.
There were only a couple of sex scenes but in true L A Witt style they smoked up the pages. The sex to topic and storyline ratio was just right.
There are some points being made about the lingering effects of DADT, repealed as it is, the way ex vets are left to their own devices, more often than not in an unstable place, marriage (in)equality, and family. They are nicely nestled in amongst a good piece of fictional writing; but they are all there.
Things that didn't work so much -
The book was predictable - how the MC's would end up. Not once - given they had both been to very difficult places for guys in their late 20's - did I feel they wouldn't be together. It's nice, but I just didn't get taken to the edge I thought I would be taken to. It should have given me more pause for concern.
This time I did find it hard to distinguish between the two MC's voices. L A Witt is one of the best writers's in this genre when it comes to an alternating POV. She uses it to give you an insight into her characters, plus she advances the plot well with it; even within the same event. It's true here as well EXCEPT...this time the voice of Neil and Jeremy was so similar I seriously had to find landmarks in the chapter to get my bearings on whose POVit was.
Then in no-mans land-
I was royally pissed off with family members. Okay, there is a redeeming point that gets reached by one side. I don't want to say any more. Yes, I know there are craptacular parents and family members out there, but it just angered me...immensely, incredibly.....I got so worked up about it ....but I would rather that than have no passion. Good writing, I guess.
L A Witt does not know how to write a bad book, in my opinion. This is another strong book by her, but I just didn't feel it quite as much as Where There's Smoke or Conduct Unbecoming; but that's a personal opinion. They are all excellent books, and where I find some, small, fault here, others will disagree; such is the subjective nature of reading. I highly recommend From Out in The Cold. It is well written, it is emotional, and it is current in ways I mentioned previously in the review. If you want to see some traumatized men find themselves, each other, and, perhaps, some peace and happiness then I recommend From Out in the Cold.