After World War I, millions of traumatized men returned to their homes to sink or swim with very little support for what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder.* PTSD was called shell shock or battle fatigue by people who recognized it as a psychological condition. People who didn’t called it cowardice or malingering. In Jane Rosenberg LaForge’s The Hawkman, we see a both reactions to a severely damaged returning soldier. Michael Sheehan has wandered Gloucestershire since the end of the war. He doesn’t speak. His hearing is damaged. He rarely sleeps. He is teased and chased off by most people he encounters. When he meets Eva Williams, it is the first time someone treats him with sympathy. Her kindness might save him from his memories.
Eva Williams teaches at a local women’s college in Bridgetonne; she also writes fairy tales that reference the modern world. Her forthrightness tends to startle the English villagers and annoy Lord Thornton, who’s money and influence attempt to keep the town the way it was before World War I and the Second Boer War. When Michael Sheehan arrives in Bridgetonne, Lord Thornton and everyone else wants him gone, in spite of Eva’s entreaties to help him. Lord Thornton thinks Sheehan is a malingerer; others think he’s a madman and a danger to ordinary people. So Eva starts to help him on the sly, helping him to slowly return to himself.
The Hawkman is a blend of Eva and Sheehan’s story, Eva’s fairy tales, and Eva and Sheehan’s past. Something will remind Eva of her mother, then her mind will drift back into the past before morphing into something like a fairy tale. Chapters will start with episodes that reveal Sheehan’s service as an Irishman in the British Army during the war before he became a prisoner-of-war. The closer we get to the end of the book, however, the harder it is to distinguish between Eva’s stories and what appears to be happening to Eva as she succumbs to a disease that’s not quite like tuberculosis. The more I read, the less I cared about what was might be real and what was fantasy.
This novel is an incredibly moving account of a returning soldier and the woman who is kind to him. The flashbacks and the tales add depth to a story that already had a lot of emotional weight. What I loved most was the way the layers of story circled around each other. By the end, I realized that some of the stories Eva wrote foreshadowed what happened to her in Sheehan. I was already intrigued by the story, but I marveled at the way The Hawkman was written. In addition to readers who like their fiction blended with fairy tales, I would also recommend this novel to writers who want to learn how to experiment with structure and genre boundaries.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration. It will be released 5 June 2018.
* Post-traumatic stress disorder certainly existed before World War I, it just didn’t get much attention as far as I can tell.