In this, her first novel, C.C. Mack distinguishes herself as a compelling and intelligent author.
The first obligation of a first-rate novelist is to tell an engaging story. Nothing else in the writing can replace the story. And Mack does not fail to do so. Her timing and pacing are often exquisite. She is masterful at bringing a situation to a heightened stage, holding us there until we eagerly turn to the following chapter to see what happens next to the characters. Those main characters are largely believable, three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood personages, each of which displays a gamut of appropriate emotions in reaction to mundane events, as well as those horrifying and ecstatic. The reader soon begins to care truly about these flawed, compassionate, sometimes angry and short-sighted and anguished characters, particularly Captain Caroline McKenzie, whose arduous inner journey parallels her outer one and is the backbone of the book.
It is one thing for Caroline to survive in her outer journey with the perils, known and unknown, that can literally explode near or under her in a war like that in Iraq, which provides the background and foreground for this novel’s opening scenes. For that outer journey, Caroline has at least the training, not only of a combat nurse, but also of a combatant ready to fight off the silent, furtive shapes that appear and disappear around and sometimes, unfortunately, within the complex of the combat hospital. But she is a complete novice at negotiating the inner landscape of psychic landmines compellingly laid out for her in part by the outer one.
Yet, as indicated by Mack’s dedication of the book to our nation’s servicemen and women, one of her purposes in this novel, in addition to composing a captivating story, is helping veterans, especially combat veterans, seek the help they need to cope with the inner devastations of war, sometimes more horrendous than the physical impairments.
Such grief, quite complicated in her case, is what stalks Caroline. While she initially embodies that repressive code—despite the debilitating flashbacks that almost cost her her sanity and her job as a stateside nurse—the novel methodically traces Caroline’s slow and spasmodic, two-steps-forward-one-step-back approach to her healing through therapy. With ambivalent support from her dearest friends and battling the anticipated stigma of being labelled crazy, she finally in desperation does her homework, researching the field of psychotherapeutic methods so alien to her.
Although outlining this process for readers, especially those who are skeptical soldiers or their perhaps equally doubtful loved ones, is a great service for such readers, Mack goes further by introducing what is even more alien to many—the use of hypnosis to heal the profound wounds of war. Mack has done her research in presenting the character of a wholly credible, compassionate, professional therapist, Dr. Perrin, who painstakingly introduces the intricacies of hypnotherapy to Caroline. Even though there are many induction protocols available, as a hypnotherapist myself, I could appreciate the doctor’s practice choice and also his further hypnotic methods in working with Caroline’s trauma. It is not long before he facilitates the beginning of the healing of her flashbacks and provides grounding exercises to recover from their debilitating effects.
But then there are other kinds of flashbacks and dreams haunting Caroline, phenomena which require Dr. Perrin to go further into territory alien to Caroline’s paradigm of consciousness and identity: the arena of past lives. After ascertaining that nothing in her current life can adequately account for all of her inner sufferings, he very carefully discloses to her information about the subject, monitoring her for what Harvard psychiatrist, John Mack, calls “ontological shock,” the distress that often emerges when a reliable, supposedly self-evident worldview is suddenly seen as radically incomplete or even wrong. As she absorbs what Dr. Perrin is disclosing to her, Caroline awakens to the fact that she has had at least two past lives. And these past lives, the remembrance of which is triggered by something in Caroline’s current life, prove to have a major bearing on what is now going on with her, way beyond the contributions of her experience in war.
Mack’s demonstrated ability to manage the presentation of Caroline’s multiple and intertwining lives/personae is remarkable to observe. What is also remarkable in Mack’s work is the evocation of a new paradigm of psychological/spiritual healing: the expansion of one’s sense of identity.
I say to each Reader, get ready to embark on a journey that could wonderfully alter your own life!
--Joseph Mancini, Jr., Ph.D., CCHt., M.S.O.D., M.S.W.
August 30, 2018