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Katie Rogin

Life During Wartime is Katie Rogin's debut novel. Her short fiction, essays and criticism have appeared in VICE, PANK, Intellectual Refuge, The Chattahoochee Review, Terrain, Streetlight, Quartz, The Rumpus, The Brooklyn Rail, The Millions and Sports Illustrated. She lives in Brooklyn.

Blurbs

"This extremely of-the-times novel follows Jim Wicklow, a former New York money man who escaped the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. His brother, Ryan, was not so lucky. Now, seven years later, Ryan's daughter, Nina, an Iraq veteran, has gone missing, and it's up to Jim to bring his niece home. He leaves his quiet post-9/11 life on Cape Cod to find Nina in the Sierra Madre mountains.On his journey, Jim meets Lise, a former army nurse and friend of Nina's who is dealing with PTSD; Danny, a Hollywood screenwriter who had been tapping Nina and Lise for firsthand war specifics; and Jen, a delusional distant cousin of Nina's who was hosting Nina in her guest house. None of the harried crew expresses optimism about Nina's fate, all of their doubts culminating in the discovery of Nina's body. Set against the 2008 housing-market crash, racing against the onslaught of California wildfires, and blistering in the grips of post-traumatic stress, Life during Wartime explores some of the twenty-first-century's deepest pains."

– Booklist

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Life During Wartime

"What A Lonely Place It Is": A Review of Katie Rogin's Life During Wartime

09/23/19

“The war had taken so many things from her, from her body, from her mind and from the other part of her that hovered between action and thoughts. She didn’t want these things back… She just wanted some kind of something to reassemble her broken world”—for Lise, and the other characters of Katie Rogin’s Life During Wartime, this thought captures that desperate need for restoration after deep trauma, along with that raging uncertainty about how to begin getting there.

Set against the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis, Rogin’s novel revolves around characters individually reeling from the events of 9/11 and the Iraq War. These individuals are forced together when twenty-one-year-old Nina Wicklow—recently returned from combat in Iraq—disappears in the foothills outside Los Angeles. Jim Wicklow—Nina’s uncle, who escaped the World Trade Center before it fell—flies from New York to search for Nina. He’s joined by Lise Sheridan, a nurse who served in Iraq’s green zone, and Nina’s friend from a recovery group for vets. The narrative shifts its point of view, among Jim, Lise, and a handful of others, as they go looking for Nina.

While this inciting event suggests Life During Wartime to be a book about a search for a missing person, the disappearance plot is hardly the novel’s engine. Instead, the conflict is the deep struggle of these searchers with their own internal demons—the brokenness of their bodies and minds.

Jim and Lise (and the vanished Nina, of course) suffer intensely from posttraumatic stress disorder. Jim loses control of his senses at times, has trouble seeing and hearing. He’s held in the perpetual, visceral grip of September 11, returning to it at any given moment: “They were always humming in his background—the falling towers were with him.” Lise experiences blacks out, finds herself having pissed her pants without remembering how or when. Words fall out of her head, or she scrambles them in “her word salad.” Commonplace anythings become triggers, jolting her back to Iraq. At the common sight of L.A.’s trees: “Palm Trees swayed to the left in Iraq and then arced back to the right in Los Angeles.” Throughout the book, Rogin expertly weaves readers in and out of Jim’s and Lise’s memories, deftly taking the narrative back and forth between present and past.

These moments become the heart of Life During Wartime, which speaks deeply to the sheer, lasting devastation that violence inflicts upon us.

Wrestling with this trauma, Jim and Lise are joined by a cast of others—Jen, Nina’s landlady, and Danny, Lise’s Hollywood-type sort-of-boyfriend—to find Nina. But as California wildfires rage around them and the bleaker Nina’s situation gets, each of the are pushed to their psychological limits. The question Rogin then asks is if healing can ever overtake brokenness, when the world continues to turn, inflicting fresh wounds before the old have a chance to heal.

In this way, Life During Wartime is hardly about the urgency of the present, despite the high stakes of a young woman’s disappearance. Instead, the novel presents that constant repetition of the past, a deafening soundtrack on a loop, that hangs over these characters. The story is about the painful physicality of memory and remembering. And the book itself acts this out for us: published in 2018, but bringing to excruciating life the crises of the falling towers, the Iraq war, and the country’s financial plummet. What Rogin does so well is to show how events of trauma unlatch themselves from their original places in time and hook their claws into individual and collective bodies and minds.

This collective suffering plays a key part to Life During Wartime’s power as well, gifting readers glimpses into multiple minds, struggling—often invisibly—right alongside each other. (Although I wonder if Rogin’s attempt at one too many voices and views becomes the book’s weakness, as some points of view seem more essential and compelling than others.)

In the end, despite the light Rogin shines on the horror of PTSD and those who suffer through it, perhaps what’s most haunting about the novel is what she keeps in the dark. Nina Wicklow disappears, and we don’t glimpse her internal life. Despite the round-robin perspectives we’re given, we aren’t granted Nina’s. During the search, even those who love her can’t fully grasp what’s driven her away. Here, Rogin puts great distance between what is known and what is unknown. Empathy can only take one so far. This grave space between portrays the frightening and isolating nature of trauma, and what a lonely place it is.

Considering all this, one realizes the power and intelligence of Life During Wartime’s title. That present tense betrays the lingering reality of those who have managed to walk away from the rubble. Of these deep wounds from the deepest kinds of violence, Rogin’s novel tell us: we cannot forget.

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