Finding Sgt. Kent (Publication Review)

Finding Sgt. Kent
HUGEOrange Publication Review, Five Stars

Finding Sgt. Kent is a story about Robert Kent who finds that leaving military service in war-torn Afghanistan is not quite the relief and new beginning it should have been.  The book opens with him spending pointless days in a VA inpatient unit for soldiers with PTSD and other issues. After fruitless sessions with the doctor trying to help him, he finally agrees to discover how his life has led up to his dissatisfaction and angst. He sets out to discover who his father was, a man he never met and never discussed much with his late mother. The doctor feels that discovering more about himself and his origins may help him adjust better into regular civilian life. But he emerges from the hospital with a changed vision of life, country and himself.
I didn’t trust the scan codes in the grocery store, the few people on the bus at night who looked at their shoes, people who wouldn’t look you in the eye. The headline on the magazines at the checkout, the stories about Afghanistan on the radio, all full of spin that the country was growing ever more democratic, ready to sit at the table with the grownups. Every day the Taliban murdered more people. If you couldn’t hold a truth in your hand, like a bullet, it didn’t exist. You couldn’t trust anything.
Although PTSD drives the story, it is not the full story. Robert has to confront his past and accept who his father was to move forward with his life. He encounters some truly awful people who just reinforce his outlook and hone his anti-social viewpoint further. And his self-preservation and defensive instincts are always at the surface, influencing and flavoring his every move.

Divided highways are always a relief; something goes down, it’s on the other side of that space and moving the other direction. I keep my distance from the cars ahead, a hundred yards minimum. Shrapnel slows down a lot in that distance, but it (expletive) unnerves me when people get right on my ass and stay there, or just over my shoulder and won’t pass. I’ll check my mirror—Are they rolling down the windows?
If you have wartime PTSD, you probably won’t learn anything new but seeing it from another’s point of view along with the damage it’s done to them may be something you could relate to. If you don’t have the physical and mental scars Richard Kent does, this book will help illustrate the complex battleground of life these men and women have to negotiate after war experiences in possibly a new way. Every war veteran who suffers PTSD lives with it in their own way. Every person with a mental illness lives it out every day.
Some of the situations he encounters made me wonder if it was because of his closed-off and tense character. Would these same horrors have happened to someone open and relaxed? Maybe not, and that’s the point, I think. Robert Kent seems doomed to be on constant alert and receptive to every bad vibe coming his way without realizing he could try to dodge. Because he can’t. This is not a story about redemption. It doesn’t have a freeze frame of all the people in it hugging with their heads thrown back in laughter at the end.  This book is not an easy read. Much of it is the stuff of nightmares, scenes and scenarios you can’t unread. However, a novel like this opens up minds to the problems and setbacks of mental illness and how it destroys the normal narrative of life. Although not for everyone, it is a well-written, perceptive jewel of a nightmare tale that plays out somewhere every day.