From the land of Genesis : deploying short story form to explore the fictionalization of narratives from veterans returning home

  • Stephen O'Shea

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Shortly after I began interviewing combat veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, I sent a preliminary draft of what was to become “The Parts” to a friend of mine. He’d been supportive of my writing and had often expressed admiration for the craft, so I considered him a kind of sounding board. When John handed the story back a week later, I could sense his hesitation. “It was good,” he said. But when I pressed for something more concrete, anything that I could turn constructive, he said this: “The parts about war felt like you were trying too hard. They didn’t feel authentic.” The sections that John singled out as seeming inauthentic, however, were taken almost verbatim from interviews I’d conducted. They were, if anything, the most authentic depictions of war I’d written thus far, so you can imagine my dismay. “You’re wrong,” I wanted to say. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” The reality, however, is that John’s skepticism was grounded by a very basic observation. He knew that I’d never fought in a war. More importantly, though, I knew that I’d never fought in a war before. I was trying too hard. I was overcompensating for my lack of authority and consequently riddling my prose with so many details from source materials and interviews that the underlying narrative was all but indecipherable. Several years later, my writing managed to evolve from a set of stories that took place within the context of war to a collection that tells a diverse but connected narrative about soldiers returning from war. While the interviews I conducted served as a root for references to the Iraq and Afghanistan War experience, each of my stories assumes its own, independent authority. This is in part due to my grounding each piece within a civilian context, but it is also due to my exploration of a subject that has been only superficially explored in regards to contemporary wars: the story of our soldiers returning home, their struggles and isolation in the face of reassimilating to civilian life. It’s easy now to shrug off my encounter with John as inconsequential—as one person’s opinion of my writing at its most nascent state—but the personal concerns that he expressed over the authenticity of my collection helped to expose how contested and problematic the notion of authenticity is within the scope of contemporary war fiction. Years afterward, this realization would help prompt the questions behind this essay: namely, 1.) whether civilian authors can assume authority over the subject of contemporary wars and 2.) if possible, how an authentic rendering of war can be achieved through research and the deployment of innovative form.
Date of Award1 Oct 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SupervisorBeatrice Colin (Supervisor) & David Kinloch (Supervisor)

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