Title: Casualties by Elizabeth Marrow
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Thriller
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
A heartbreaking and insightful debut novel about the wars we fight overseas, at home, and within our own hearts.
Some come back whole. Some come back broken. Some just never come back…
As an executive for one of the most successful military defense contractors in the country, Ruth Nolan should have been thrilled when her troubled son, Robbie, chose to join the marines. But she wasn’t. She was terrified.
So, when he returns home to San Diego after his second tour in Iraq, apparently unscathed, it feels like a chance to start over and make things right—until a scandal at work tears her away from their reunion. By the next morning, Robbie is gone. A note arrives for Ruth in the mail a few days later saying, “I’m sorry for everything. It’s not your fault. I love you.”
Without a backward glance, Ruth packs up Robbie’s ashes and drives east, heading away from her guilt and regret. But the closer she gets to the coast she was born on, the more evident it becomes that she won’t outrun her demons—eventually, she’ll have to face them and confront the painful truth about her past, her choices, the war, and her son.
Casualties by Elizabeth Marrow is a heartrending and deeply moving novel about grief, suicide and the devastating toll war has on returning soldiers.
Ruth Nolan is eagerly anticipating her son Robbie’s return home after completing his tours in Iraq. However, unbeknownst to Ruth, Robbie is having an extremely difficult time transitioning back to normal life and he is also suffering from severe PTSD. After visiting his great-grandmother and uncle, Robbie finally flies home to see Ruth, but their visit is quickly interrupted by a work emergency. Unable to break away until coming up with a solution for the problem, Ruth returns later that evening to an empty house. She soon grows frantic as her calls and texts go unanswered but she is still unprepared for the shocking news that Robbie has taken his own life. Wracked with guilt and unable to cope with his loss, Ruth sets out on a road trip where she immediately crosses path with Casey MacInerney, a Gulf War veteran who is struggling with demons of his own.
Robbie makes a short but very important appearance in the beginning of the novel and although this glimpse is all too brief, his presence is keenly felt as the rest of story unfolds. His torment over his fallen friends is palpable as is his inability to make sense out life outside of a combat zone. He is also haunted by the things he saw and did during his deployments and despite his best efforts, he is unable to find peace from the ravages of war. Robbie’s attempts to quiet his inner demons are heart wrenching and it is impossible not to feel empathy for his suffering.
Desperate to leave her painful childhood behind, Ruth dedicated herself to her career while raising Robbie as a single mother. She worked long hours and sacrificed time with her son to keep moving up the corporate ladder. Looking back, Ruth cannot help but regret her past decisions that led to missed opportunities with Robbie. After his suicide, she blames herself for his death and she is haunted by her decision to go to work instead of staying home with him. When her pain becomes too much to bear, Ruth impulsively flees without any idea where she is going and after she begins traveling with Casey, she slowly begins to come to terms with her tragic loss.
Casey is carrying a heavy load of guilt over his decision to leave his family behind a dozen years earlier. His tour of duty in the first Gulf War left mental and physical scars and fearing he would only end up hurting his loved ones, he chose to walk away from them. Just as Ruth enters his life, Casey is at long last ready to face his past mistakes and he strikes a deal with Ruth to make the trip together. Their cross country journey is at first filled with tension, but as they gradually share their burdens with one another, they finally begin to heal.
Casualties by Elizabeth Marrow is a poignant novel that is heartbreaking yet uplifting. The emotional journeys of both Casey and Ruth are redemptive as they acknowledge their mistakes and move forward as best they can. For Casey, this means going through with his reunion with his loved ones despite his fears and doubts. In addition to her grief and guilt, Ruth also faces a moral quandary that could cost her the professional success she has sacrificed so much to achieve. While the story does not conclude with a traditional happily ever after, it is nonetheless hopeful as Ruth and Casey make peace with their respective pasts and begin to look toward the future.