Lauren Clay has returned from a tour of duty in Iraq just in time to spend the holidays with her family. Read more...
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Publisher: Simon & Schuster$16.00Be Safe I Love You (Large Print Hardcover)
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Lauren Clay has returned from a tour of duty in Iraq just in time to spend the holidays with her family. Before she enlisted, Lauren, a classically trained singer, and her brother Danny, a bright young boy obsessed with Arctic exploration, made the most of their modest circumstances, escaping into their imaginations and forming an indestructible bond. Joining the army allowed Lauren to continue to provide for her family, but it came at a great cost.
When she arrives home unexpectedly, it's clear to everyone in their rural New York town that something is wrong. But her father is so happy to have her home that he ignores her odd behavior and the repeated phone calls from an army psychologist. He wants to give Lauren time and space to acclimate to civilian life.
Things seem better when Lauren offers to take Danny on a trip to visit their mother upstate. Instead, she guides them into the glacial woods of Canada on a quest to visit the Jeanne d'Arc basin, the site of an oil field that has become her strange obsession. As they set up camp in an abandoned hunting lodge, Lauren believes she's teaching Danny survival skills for the day when she's no longer able to take care of him.
But where does she think she's going, and what happened to her in Iraq that set her on this path?
From a writer whom "The New York Times" "Book Review" says, "writes with a restraint that makes poetry of pain," "Be Safe I Love You" is a novel about war and homecoming, love and duty, and an impassioned look at the effects of war on women--as soldiers and caregivers, both at home and on the front lines.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-01-13
- Reviewer: Staff
Hoffman’s excellent sophomore effort (after 2012’s So Much Pretty) describes the troubled homecoming of U.S. Army Sergeant Lauren Clay to Watertown, N.Y., from a tour of duty in Iraq. Lauren, left as a young girl by her mother to care for her little brother, Danny, and her depressed, bedridden father, is bitter and skeptical of her parents’ newfound eagerness to play an active role in her life. Once a promising classical singer, she is now permanently on edge, quick to anger, and plagued by nightmares and hallucinations. Upon her return, Lauren is alarmed to find that 13-year-old Danny has become an Internet junkie, and she decides to take him on a road trip to Canada. There, she plans to look for work with former soldier Daryl Green, a kindred spirit with whom she served. Lauren chucks Danny’s phone and subjects him to a crash course in wilderness survival as the two head north. Meanwhile, Lauren’s acquaintances become concerned about her unusual behavior, especially after several calls from an Army psychologist. Hoffman fills her tight narrative with an ominous sense of imminent violence. The sunny ending sounds a rare false note in this haunting page-turner, which otherwise rings true in its depiction of a veteran’s plight. Agent: Rebecca Friedman, Rebecca Friedman Literary. (Apr.)
A woman soldier's unseen wounds
It’s good to know that a female protagonist doesn’t have to be “nice” in order to be compelling. In Cara Hoffman’s latest novel, Be Safe I Love You, returning Iraqi war vet Lauren Clay is anything but nice. Indeed, the reader might be tempted, at first, to call her hateful. But as you read on, it dawns on you that the Lauren who enlisted as a soldier because of the fat signing bonus that would keep the wolves away from the door of her impoverished family isn’t the Lauren who has returned. The word that kept going through this reviewer’s head was “revenant.”
It’s not that Lauren is actually a newly minted member of the walking dead—the book is a horror story, but it’s not that kind of horror story—but her experiences in Iraq have hollowed her out to the point where she is truly something other than human. Fans of “Firefly” and Serenity might recall River Tam, a delicate-looking girl who’s had her amygdala scraped, or something similarly horrible, so that when she hears certain trigger words she becomes a killing machine.
Fortunately and unfortunately, Lauren has enough self-awareness to know that she’s crazy. It’s good that she wants to spare her loved ones, including her depressive and useless father and the beloved younger brother she raised after their mother abandoned them. But the knowledge that she’s been destroyed inside makes her life a torment, and she can’t keep that torment from spilling over onto others.
And it’s those others who finally make you care about what happens to Lauren in the end. Yes, her father is pitiable, but he’s also good. Her brother, too, is lovable and goofy in a way that only teenage boys can be lovable and goofy. Her boyfriend and her best friend believe in her even as they’re subjected to the worst of her behavior. Her voice teacher still believes she’s destined for greatness. Even the boyfriend’s dumb, drunken louts of uncles care about her, as does Lauren’s own surrogate uncle. How can you not think, “If these people care about Lauren so much, why shouldn’t I?” This is called telling a story slant, and it’s a way to pull the reader into some difficult material. In Be Safe I Love You, Hoffman pulls us in brilliantly.