Cover image for Waiting for Eden / Elliot Ackerman.
Title:
Waiting for Eden / Elliot Ackerman.
ISBN:
9781101947395
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.

©2018
Physical Description:
173 pages ; 20 cm
General Note:
"This is a Borzoi book"--Title page verso.
Abstract:
Eden Malcom lies in a bed, unable to move or to speak, imprisoned in his own mind. His wife Mary spends every day on the sofa in his hospital room. He has never even met their young daughter. And he will never again see the friend and fellow soldier who didn't make it back home--and who narrates the novel. But on Christmas, the one day Mary is not at his bedside, Eden's re-ordered consciousness comes flickering alive. As he begins to find a way to communicate, some troubling truths about his marriage--and about his life before he went to war--come to the surface.
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Summary

Summary

From the National Book Award finalist, a breathtakingly spare and shattering new novel that traces the intersection of three star-crossed lives.

Eden Malcom lies in a bed, unable to move or to speak, imprisoned in his own mind. His wife Mary spends every day on the sofa in his hospital room. He has never even met their young daughter. And he will never again see the friend and fellow soldier who didn't make it back home--and who narrates the novel. But on Christmas, the one day Mary is not at his bedside, Eden's re-ordered consciousness comes flickering alive. As he begins to find a way to communicate, some troubling truths about his marriage--and about his life before he went to war--come to the surface. Is Eden the same man he once was: a husband, a friend, a father-to-be? What makes a life worth living? A piercingly insightful, deeply felt meditation on loyalty and betrayal, love and fear, Waiting for Eden is a tour de force of profound humanity.


Author Notes

ELLIOT ACKERMAN is the author of the novels Dark at the Crossing, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and Green on Blue. His writings have appeared in Esquire, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The New York Times Magazine, among other publications, and his stories have been included in The Best American Short Stories. He is both a former White House Fellow and Marine, and served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor, and the Purple Heart. He divides his time between New York City and Washington, D.C.


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

A National Book Award finalist for Dark at the Crossing, former Marine Ackerman tells the heartbreaking story of a relationship caught up in the aftermath of war. Eden and Mary are happily married with a child on the way when Eden is deployed for his second tour in Iraq. After an accident leaves Eden's best friend dead and Eden barely alive, he returns home on a stretcher covered in severe burns and is unable to return to the life he'd led before. Mary, meanwhile, cares for their infant daughter and must wrestle with the hard decision of whether to take Eden off of life support. She is full of resentment and guilt, unable to forgive herself for letting him leave for war. Eden's best friend narrates-caught in limbo between this world and the next-and hovers over their lives, connecting to both in unexpected ways. He offers a bird's-eye view of the pain and suffering of both Mary and Eden as they struggle separately to make peace with Eden's imminent death. This is a deeply touching exploration of resentment, longing, and loss among those who volunteer to fight and the loved ones left behind. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

one hopes that with the publication of his masterly third novel, "Waiting for Eden," Elliot Ackerman will help put to rest the current age of maximalism in American fiction. (1 doubt he intended to do so with this brilliant volume, but so it goes.) Rachel Cusk's "Outline" trilogy and Jenny Offill's "Dept, of Speculation" are recent novels with reasonable page counts that have created similarly shimmering portraits of humans at rest and fury. In his short novel, Ackerman accomplishes what a mountain of maximalist books have rarely delivered over tens of thousands of pages and a few decades: He makes pure character-based literary art, free of irony, free of authorial self-aggrandizement, dedicated only to deeply human storytelling. "Waiting for Eden" is a journey through the traumas, betrayals and ecstasies of contemporary warfare and the multiple lives touched and sometimes shattered by one combat injury or death. Be forewarned, there is more trauma here than ecstasy, yet there is also grace and wonder. Ackerman accomplishes so much in so few pages that the book feels nearly unclassifiable. ft is a war novel, certainly, and a wisely observed marriage drama, and a novel of friendship, duty and failure, ft's a precise study of the American underclass that mostly fills the ranks of our armed services. There is some Carveresque kitchen sink stuff, pancakes and hidden cigarette butts and all; and some Salterian love and sex and lies; and the writer pulls off a bit of narrative absurdity of the sort perfected most often by Joy Williams. The storytelling also feels so blue-flame true that one thinks of the war reporting of C. J. Chivers, Anthony Shadid and Marie Colvin. That's a lot of writers surfing these pages, but "Waiting for Eden" is original and singular - not burdened by influence but energized by it. The novel's setup is somewhat mad, and marvelously simple: Three years ago our narrator died in combat in the Hamrin Valley of Iraq: "I was sitting next to Eden and luckier than him when our Humvee hit a pressure plate, killing me and everybody else, him barely surviving." When your dead narrator claims he's luckier than the injured Marine whose story he's about to tell, get ready for a deep dive into pathos, regret and longing. The theme of "only one came back" is not uncommon in the canon of war stories, but here the lone survivor is too severely injured to tell his story, so Ackerman hands the narration to an omniscient member of the dead platoon. This inventive tweak offers Ackerman point-of-view and narrative time and space options that he engages with brio. By boldly situating his narrative omniscience in a ghost (or corpse, or spirit - I'm unsure what to call the narrator), Ackerman immediately achieves uncanny authority. The reader's own "waiting for Eden" becomes an obsession. (Yes, there might be some Beckett here too: Whom or what are we waiting for, all of us?) This omniscience offers privileged views of Eden's medevac back to the United States (those few pages alone constitute an entire tragedy, as a less-injured man dies because the two nurses on the plane spend all their energy and resources resuscitating Eden), Eden in the burn unit, Eden and the narrator training for combat, Eden and his wife, Mary, entertaining the narrator with a home-cooked meal. (Eden and Mary - yes, you might get biblical with it, if that's your style.) The time frame is loose, yet all the moves are determined and distinct, each serving the story in surprising, thrilling ways. When the bachelor narrator leaves his Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance to Mary, it first looks impulsive and desperate, and then insidious, but that act is finally understood as a generous and angelic last rite by a young Marine who more often than not ate Chinese takeout alone in the barracks. In addition to waiting, there is counting: Eden wishes to be counted among the death tolls tallied by both the narrator and Mary, who wonders where on the roster Eden's name will land: "Slowly she changed her mind about what his number might be. But she always knew he'd have a number.... For in the end it would always be the war that killed him." Early on we are told that Eden, the bedridden, formerly strapping 220-pound combat Marine, now weighs 70 pounds. Ackerman wisely avoids the laundry list of injuries he suffered. We can guess; Eden is housed in a burn center in San Antonio, his physical totality a fraction of what it was: "He's had a lot of infections, and they've cut all of him off up to the torso.... I don't think anyone really knows what to call him, except for Mary. She calls him her husband." Mary is a good wife, a loving wife. She's not running the base wives' club, but she understands Eden's need to serve his country. She also wants a baby. The couple made an agreement that if she got pregnant, he wouldn't go back to war. But intimacy is difficult while Eden fights his ghosts from an earlier deployment. Or is he just holding out so he can redeploy? Still, a child is conceived, and her hair is red like flames. The birth allows Ackerman to explore conflicted, confused true love in such elegant and humane ways that you will come to question everything you think you know about the meanings of romance and fidelity. WHATEVER PRESENT ACTION exists in the novel happens over a single Christmas holiday, when Mary, after three years, finally leaves Eden's bedside to visit their daughter, who now lives with Mary's mother. Some critics might call "Waiting for Eden" a retelling of Dalton Trumbo's antiwar classic "Johnny Got His Gun." That would be unfair to both writers for a multitude of reasons, Ackerman's apolitical stance first among them. But the younger author does make at least one wry, essential and tragicomic homage to the ringing telephone that begins "Johnny": When Mary travels to see their daughter, she accidentally leaves her cellphone charging in Eden's room, just behind his head. The ringing phone as Mary tries to locate it from her mother's house will rip Eden from the far depths of consciousness into a paranoid phantasmagoria of cockroaches. Eden has always hated bugs, and they are at the center of one of the book's key betrayals. From his hospital bed he clocks a cockroach stalking him from across the room: "Eden didn't know the name for a cockroach anymore, but he knew that its hard-backed shell and thorny legs could run a number on him." Is that Kafka's Gregor Samsa haunting this novel? Maybe. The ringing behind Eden's head convinces him that an army of cockroaches is invading his room to annihilate what remains of his body. In an infinite and inhumane technology loop, his panic causes the shift nurse to treat his extreme response as cardiac arrest, which in turn causes her to call Mary's cellphone to tell her Eden is going into cardiac arrest, which causes even more ringing and more physiological anguish for Eden. It's almost a gag out of "I Love Lucy." Except it's not. Even though you shouldn't, you will laugh. There is not a lot of actual death in "Waiting for Eden," except for the poor kid on Eden's medevac who's suffered the most humiliating of injuries: "The kid had been shot in the ass." The message is this: You never know what you're fighting for. You never know what might kill you or when you'll die. The senior nurse, Gabe, is a veteran war medic who takes an interest in helping Eden see out his Morse code plea for the "END." Years removed from his own deployment, Gabe learns "it wasn't too little time that was the enemy but too much. For in the end, it was time that turned all his friends' fractures to breaks. And for his friends, the moments from their saving to their ends became a list of torments caused by him." The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq coincided with and fueled a new era in combat-trauma medical technology and techniques: Tens of thousands of men and women who would have died in other conflicts returned home, and continue to do so, with wounds no one should have to cope with. But cope they do, for days, weeks, months, years. No one but the injured and their families keeps track of those days. Ackerman tells us all: Count and look. Ackerman's literary career has had a prolific start; he's written two prior acclaimed novels and a collection of essays and letters, all since 2015. His nominal topics have been modern wars in the Middle East, but the micro-level power of his unadorned and direct prose lies in no less than an attempt to contain and dramatize the darkness and light of our souls. He constantly asks: How do we love and why? Why must we so often fail as lovers, friends, citizens? Yet against his wartime backdrops of waste and destruction, he is astonishingly optimistic about his fellow man and the small acts of kindness that just might make us persevere in spite of it all, in life and in novels. To identify this book as a novel seems inadequate: "Waiting for Eden" is a sculpture chiseled from the rarest slab of life experience. The sculptor's tools are extreme psychological interrogation and clear artistic vision. It is a vision from which we might discover some new knowledge about war and being - perhaps even regain a moral core. There is more trauma here them ecstasy, yet there is also grace and wonder. Anthony swofford is a former Marine and the author of "Jarhead."


Library Journal Review

Ackerman's (2017 National Book Award finalist for Dark at the Crossing) latest might be just three and a half hours long, but the dramatic effects will surely last longer. -MacLeod Andrews-his voice slightly growly, controlled enough as if control is necessary-narrates from the omniscient viewpoint of a dead man, waiting for his best friend to die. Eden Malcolm has been reduced to basically a 70-pound torso, trapped in a San Antonio burn center, sent home from Iraq after surviving an IED blast that killed his best friend-who now tells both their stories, along with that of Eden's wife, Mary, who's spent most of the past three years by his hospital bed. Before the latest deployment, before the explosion, Eden and Mary had been desperate to conceive, Mary more so because a baby was supposed to keep Eden home. Over the "days, weeks, months, years, lying there, not being allowed to just die," the three-part past, the two-part present, the solo future to come (albeit with child) get chillingly revealed-of love, hope, betrayal, desperation, dedication, and suffocation. -VERDICT A superb novel further enhanced by an exemplary reader; a timely acquisition for all libraries. ["With sparse prose and a deft pen, Ackerman writes a profound meditation on the liminal space between our past, present, and future": LJ 9/1/18 starred review of the Knopf hc; 2018 LJ Best Literary Fiction.]-Terry Hong, -Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Excerpted from WAITING FOR EDEN: I want you to understand Mary and what she did. But I don't know if you will. You've got to wonder if in the end you'd make the same choice, circumstances being similar, or even the same, God help you. Back when I first met her and Eden times were better. They were trying to start a family then. And months later, on that night in the Hamrin Valley, I was sitting next to Eden and luckier than him when our Humvee hit a pressure plate, killing me and everybody else, him barely surviving. Ever since then I've been around too, just on that other side, seeing all there is, and waiting. Three years have gone by and my friend's spent every day of it laid out in that burn center in San Antonio. I could give you the catalogue of his injuries, but I won't. Not because I don't think you could stomach it, but because I don't think it'd really tell you much about what type of a way he's in. So I'll tell you this: he used to weigh two hundred and twenty pounds and some mornings, when we'd workout together, he'd press well over one-fifty above his head, sweat pouring from beneath his black hair. Before we deployed, he and I both went to SERE school, that's the one up in Maine where they teach you what to do in case you become a prisoner. For a couple of weeks the instructors starved us and roughed us up pretty bad. Then the course ended and those same instructors had a graduation party with us. That night at the party, I watched him pound five pints of Guinness in almost as many minutes. He held it all down, too. But I'll also tell you that if you ever went to his house for dinner he wouldn't serve Guinness, he'd likely do all the cooking and serve you a bottle of wine he'd chosen specially for your visit. He could tell you all about the wine: the viticulture considerations in the soil of the vineyard, and when you were done with that and the main course, he'd serve chocolate with hot pepper or sea salt, or some other fancy thing mixed in. He said that stuff brought out the flavor. I still don't know if that's true, but I liked that he said it. I'll tell you that every guy in the platoon had a nickname. One pervy guy was called Hand Job because he had all sorts of weird porn on his computer. And another guy, a kind of dumb guy, was called Wedge because a wedge is the world's simplest tool. But Eden's nickname was Slam Dance. That's how he treated the whole world, like it was a mosh pit and he was slam dancing along in it. At least before the pressure plate. But now I don't know what to call him. The seventy pounds that's left of him in the bed--he's had a lot of infections, and they've cut all of him off up to the torso--isn't Slam Dance and it isn't the name he was born with. I don't think anyone really knows what to call him, except for Mary. She calls him her husband. *** Mary was pregnant the day he touched down at the airbase in San Antonio and she's been there every day since. After the pressure plate, they almost didn't fly him out of Balad. The docs there were sure he was about to go, and they were doubly sure the trip would kill him. Still they were obligated to at least try and get him home. On the C-17 back two nurses stayed within arms length of him the whole ride. Also on the flight was a kid from the 82nd Airborne, a private first class. The kid had been shot in the ass. Had the bullet gone half an inch higher, it would've nicked off some of his spine, instead it nicked off some of his lower intestine, a bit of good luck. Another bit of good luck for the kid was Eden. My friend's emergency flight to San Antonio got the kid a direct flight to his hometown, otherwise he would've been sent back on the bi-weekly rotator through Bethesda. The kid spent the whole flight laid out on a gurney just across from Eden's. He was strapped down on his stomach, a big and humiliating piece of gauze stuck into his wound. My friend was burnt up so bad that the kid couldn't tell which way they'd strapped him to his gurney, on his front or on his back. The kid was in pain but doing all right. He was on a solid morphine drip. What bothered him more than his wounds were the pair of nurses who talked too loud and the bright lights in the cabin. The lights were kept bright so open wounds could be seen clearly by the nurses. Still the lights kept the kid awake. My friend kept the kid awake too, trying to sleep next to someone as burnt up as him was like trying to sleep next to a box of poisonous snakes. But knowing what type of a way Eden was in made the kid feel a bit better about the type of a way he was in. All along the docs had told the kid he wasn't too bad off. They'd even said once he got sewed up and put back together he'd be in no worse shape than someone who'd had a real bad hernia. The kid didn't buy that line, but on the plane, headed home and looking at my friend, he did start to feel a bit better. During the flight, a male nurse came to check on the kid every couple of hours. The nurse made sure he was comfortable and looked over his bandages and vitals. About halfway home, the C-17 landed at Ramstein Air Force Base to refuel. That's when the male nurse, the one who'd been looking after the kid, got off the plane. Once they got back in the air a different nurse, a young one who was also watching Eden, came by to check on the kid. "You're looking all right," she said. "You know it," replied the kid, and he gave her a flirty smile. She had good dark skin and her black hair was pulled tightly into a bun. "Your ass is seeping a bit," said the young nurse. "Get some sleep. I'll change you before we land." She covered him with a blanket. The kid didn't say anything. He pushed the button on his clicker for another shot from his morphine drip. He didn't want to look at her anymore so he turned his head back to the bulkhead, trying to sleep. Then the young nurse went to check on Eden. When she stood over him, he was shuddering on his gurney. She read his temperature. It was high, dangerously so. His skin, already see-through with burns, didn't sweat, it couldn't. Instead it shined, the fever trapped inside. The second, older nurse came over. As she did, his body seized and then did a sort of whip-crack , struggling for breath even as he gasped. Without speaking, the older nurse ran to the refrigerator at the front of the plane. That's where they kept the blood. The two nurses worked together searching for a place to transfuse the blood into my friend. Their movements were mechanical and silent. Their hands raced unfamiliarly over his body not recognizing the places where they could usually find enough vein for a needle. Soon the young nurse found a soft patch of skin on his side. She flicked the skin with her finger. Slowly it turned red as a sunburn. Then, beneath the red, she found a dark and lurking vein. She angled the needle to the vein and lanced it in, hooking up the tubing. Blood barely trickled through. It met great resistance and didn't flow as it should. Instead it percolated like the last drips of coffee from a machine. His body was shutting down, rejecting what was offered it. Still the nurses kept up their work, massaging the bag of blood, fighting off the collapse of his veins as if the transfused red and white cells were a squad of workmen desperately jointing the rafters of a house ready to fall in on itself. Then slowly the bag began to empty into his body. And through hydraulics my friend stayed alive. Over Eden, the two nurses took up a vigil. The older nurse stood at the head of his bed. She massaged the bag of blood. The younger nurse stood at his side. She kept the thick needle in place, pressing it to his skin. Inside him, the needle's beveled point held to the single and narrow vein like a climber with too few fingers on a ledge. For three hours, the nurses hardly spoke. Then the C-17's engine ground against the air, slowing. Both nurses yawned, their ears popping in the descent. Eden groaned, feeling the pain in his ears, despite every other thing he could've felt. The kid lay across from them, facing the bulkhead, soundless and peacefully unaware of the quiet struggle occurring next to him. The C-17 banked as they flew their final approach. The two nurses watched as Eden's temperature crept safely downward, the fresh blood saving him. His fever dropped, his progress mirroring the flight's descent. When the C-17 touched down, its tires smoking the runway, the young nurse recorded his final temperature: a low grade fever, exactly as it'd been on take off sixteen hours before. They taxied down the runway, the flightless wings of the C-17 sagging heavily toward the ground. The young nurse and old nurse stood on either side of my friend's gurney, poised like a couple of bobsledders, ready to get him off the C-17 and on his way to the burn center. An unspoken satisfaction passed between the two nurses. This flight had been historic in a way. My friend was, they'd been told, the most wounded man from both the wars. As advanced as medicine had become, that likely made him the most wounded man in the history of war, and they'd just kept him alive from one side of the world to the other. Over the C-17's engine there was a distinct thumping in the air. The young nurse leaned into one of the plane's portholes. A white helicopter with a red cross idled on the tarmac. All of this for just one patient, she thought. Her mind wandered and she recalled something she'd read or heard once, in a place she couldn't quite remember, about how the suffering of the world is in the suffering of the individual and that in the individual is all the world, or something like that. Even though she couldn't remember the whole idea she liked what it said about her and her work, and as the C-17 taxied toward the helicopter, she mulled over these thoughts and what it meant that they'd saved Eden. Red and green tail lights and runway lights pulsed in the early morning fog. The back ramp of the C-17 gaped open. The nurses ran my friend down the ramp. They handed his gurney over to a handful of paramedics who took it with all the frenzy of a pit crew. Then the older nurse ran back into the C-17. She'd forgotten to hand the paramedics his chart. She returned down the ramp and scrambled onto the tarmac, clasping the chart to her chest as its papers threatened to blow away in the down wash of the many engines. Already the white helicopter pitched and whined, beginning to take off. She ran toward it. Lucky for her, one of the paramedics looked up at that moment. He saw her coming and she managed to hand him the chart. The older nurse then walked back over to the C-17. On its ramp sat the young nurse. She untied her black hair, ran her fingers through it, and then with several twists of her wrist pulled it once again into a bun. The two sat together, looking off. The young nurse stared down the runway, in the direction the white helicopter had left, toward the distant lights of San Antonio. "Who's meeting him at the hospital?" she asked the old nurse. "A burn triage team." "That's not what I meant," said the young nurse. The old nurse looked back at her. "I don't know. I didn't want to ask." The two stood and walked back up the ramp. In the C-17, the kid still lay on his side, facing the bulkhead. The young nurse rested her palm on his shoulder. He didn't move. Quickly she touched his forehead with the back of her hand. It was cold. She planted her index and middle finger on his neck. Nothing. She put her cheek inches from his mouth. She felt no breath and his face was the same as sleep. The old nurse pulled the blanket away. Around the kid's legs and hips the flesh was full and swollen. The old nurse put her hands on him there. He was still warm and there was a fullness that sloshed like a hot water bottle. Footsteps came up the C-17's ramp, a lone paramedic. Parked behind him was a regular ambulance. "Hell of a job you two," he said. Then he pulled a Motorola off his belt and wagged it at them. "They're five minutes out and he's still stable. You wanna get your other guy loaded up?" The old nurse leaned heavily against the kid's gurney. She reached up, handing over his chart. "Bled into himself," she said. "We missed it." The paramedic glanced down at the kid. "Looks like he went quick." Then the three of them rolled his gurney out to the parked ambulance, taking their time with it. Excerpted from Waiting for Eden: A Novel by Elliot Ackerman All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.