Title: Revenants – The Odyssey Home
Author: Scott Kauffman
Genre: Historical Fiction/War
Format: Print copy mailed by author in exchange for an honest review
My rating: 4/5
A grief-stricken candy-striper serving in a VA hospital following her brother’s death in Viet Nam struggles to return home an anonymous veteran of the Great War against the skullduggery of a congressman who not only controls the hospital as part of his small-town fiefdom but knows the name of her veteran. A name if revealed would end his political ambitions and his fifty-year marriage. In its retelling of Odysseus’ journey, Revenants casts a flickering candle upon the charon toll exacted not only from the families of those who fail to return home but of those who do.
Not a typical historical fiction reader, I found this insightful story full of unexpected mystery and poignant character arcs. Spanning two wars, we find similar plots of men and the women who loved them in different ways. For both the mysterious Vet and Betsy’s brother, Nathan, there is a theme of them returning in both direct and subtle avenues – “(a) revenant can be someone long forgotten and now remembered. It can also be someone returning after a long absence” (Kauffman 241) – Nathan and James respectively. I appreciated the interplay of communication of the Vet’s story through Morse Code and Betsy’s reminiscing of Nathan in dreams and books he read. The Odyssey (for which we see through the namesake) was one of his favorites and ties in both men’s narration – “in unlocking the impossibility of our ever coming home, yet it is a journey the gods will never permit us to abandon…the Odyssey above all was the story of a soldier’s journey home. A journey that took him ten years because the gods willed it to be so” (Kauffman 273).
For those out there who feel a sense of rebellion or acting out, Betsy lived those days after Nathan’s death which led to the possibility of healing. To her “(a)ll keys to the unknown frightened her. While the key to Jamie Hamilton’s room without a doubt save her life, it forever changed it too. Sent her careening down roads she never expected to travel” (Kauffman 272). Sometimes the worse that we can imagine is what leads us to hope and acceptance. Nathan came to this conclusion for Betsy in his last journal entry before the fateful night – “I know now Betsy will be all right. She will again see the sweetness of life through its mysteries revealed to her for we do not live our lives in straight lines but in circles bewildering to us as a maze, our present lives circling our past, all the while circling the present and past of those we love, which, with luck, is where mine and Betsy’s will converge. Then we two will each in turn have completed our own Odysseys home” (Kauffman 294). By delving into another soldier’s tragic story, Betsy is able to know something of Nathan’s, where she can find closure and be able to say goodbye, living for the both of them.
Read Revenants – The Odyssey Home if you like the themes of:
- Historical Fiction
- Coming of Age