Revenants: Scott Kauffman
Imagine spending your life in a hospital bed because someone wants you hidden. Imagine returning after death or a long absence. When returning from the beyond this figure or person might be prompted by revenge or in other cases it can be a creature or in this case a man whose desire to fulfill a special goal hoping not to die alone might bring him back to return a dead hero. Within the pages of this novel you will see the bodies of soldiers that are no longer whole. The mortar, shells, the gunfire and the death toll rises around these soldiers sent to fight what many think is a senseless war. Hoping someday to survive each battle, some taking blame when their troops are killed and yet others courageous yet disheartened in the end. This novel has many themes and is quite complex. As the story opens we hear the words of Nathan, a young soldier who decided to give it all up in order to fight for his country. Life changed for his family when he left and although his father was against it, Nathan went ahead anyway and enlisted. As you read the letter in the prologue and hear his voice coming through you understand the love between him and our main character as Betsy reflects on the life of Nathan, their bantering, their quarrels and their love of life. Going off to war is something many young men do even today as the death tolls rise in places like Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq or even Israel. Betsy is a teenage girl who’s dealing with losing her brother by leaving life, falling down in school and not caring about what happens to her. Many times people say things to someone and they cannot take them back and in the end they are filled with remorse. Betsy feels sad and upset that she never got to say goodbye to Nathan before he left. Failing in school, staying with the wrong friends, smoking, not following the rules she receives a punishment that will teach her a lesson that she will carry for life. Rather than yell, scream and hand her something to make it worse the Father who runs her school explains that in order for her to enter the following year as a Junior and not have to repeat her Sophomore year she will have to work as a candy stripper at the VA hospital. Parents agreed. Betsy has no choice and what happens when she enters the doors of this hospital will change her life and that of others.
A story that is more than two fold as Betsy enters the VA hospital filled with anger and fear at the same time. Seeing these men without their limbs, some disfigured beyond recognition and others who will never see or speak she sees despair when in reality these men have learned to appreciate life in their own way. Returning home and telling her father she will not return he explains that she has no choice and that what she is about to embark on will help others. Going in with different eyes she reads to the patients, writes letters for them and is now their hands, feet, eyes and ears and even bonds with so many becoming a member of their Friday night poker game. But, each man living his life but others seeing it through different eyes as Betsy becomes involved and Nurse Baker takes a liking to her and requests that she become involved with administrative duties. Betsy asked to do this and when allowed to sort out the files in a dusty and dirty upper floor room she becomes aware of a patient on the fourth floor that no one knows about and whose identity is being kept a secret. Her brother never came home to his family and these others are home so she makes a promise to help others find their last resting place near loved ones. As the quandary about the patient comes to light and Betsy enlists the help of her brother Bartholomew to help her with the files and find out who this patient really is, she learns that this man is capable of communicating but in a unique way. Studying to become a telegrapher or someone that uses Morse code he realizes that the tapping he is doing is exactly that and that he can communicate using his one finger. As the story continues we hear the story of this man through her brother who relates as she transcribes his words allowing the reader to enter the trenches, the battlefield and learn what part this man played in the military, why he was with the Canadian Army and how he finally came to be with the Americans. It is a story that needs to be told because it could be anyone that it could happen to as we learn why he is being kept hidden. Listening to the voice of this man you hear the sounds of gunfire, you understand his dedication to his men and one young man whose family did not allow him to continue his education and he winds up in the trenches. So many did not return home and if you hear his story you understand why he asks Betsy to honor a promise. Added in Congressman Hanna is the man who runs the town, the politics and the VA Hospital and the local newspaper as a young reporter named Matt wants to run with this story and is told he would never work again if he did. Lies, secrets, betrayals, honor, hope, despair and a man who has been kept hidden for fifty years in order for another to have the life he wants while stealing that of another.
When Betsy approaches Oliver who works for Hanna and Henry from the paper she gets nowhere. A janitor from the hospital is one link but there is only so much he can do before Hanna decides to fire him and Nurse Baker. Learning what they are doing when they finally realize the truth, he comes down on everyone but Betsy’s actions and response are not what you would expect.
When her punishment is over you would think she would never return. Betsy never really finds her own way home, never gives herself a chance to deal with her brother’s death and at her mother’s funeral someone presents her with a Key that her father wanted her to have and the ending is explosive.
A journal that is quite compelling as we hear Nathan’s voice, learn about his relationship with Sarah Anne, the truth behind why she confided in him. Family secrets, finding himself, Betsy who floundered and Randy Brindle who could not take the pressure and the truth behind this mysterious patient, who he is, why he felt he deserved penance and why he could never fully forgive himself for what he thought he did to others. A self-inflicted punishment you might say. A child he never knew about and families torn apart by the war. Author Scott Kaufman’s story might have fictional characters but the research into the war is extensive, the story told by the patient rings so true and the end result as Betsy reads Nathan’s journal will take her back in time, back to before he left, understanding his fears when he returns, dealing with the shakes, Sally Anne haunted by a dream and so many lives changed as the death toll rose and so did the fate of The Revenants.
Both Betsy and Nathan loved Homer’s Odyssey and in Chapter 37 the author shares the history of this book, the true meaning behind what he wrote as we realize that Odysseus, Nathan, the many patients and Betsy had to find their way and journey home. It took Odysseus ten years to come home dealing with the gods and hoping they willed it so. The author shares the way the Greeks committed many atrocities, which was sacrificed and the punishments given in order to atone for wrong doings. “ What are the joys of life today, can turn into our sorrows tomorrow.” Interesting thought and pertains to so much of what each character experiences. Reading from Nathan’s journal understanding his fears, why he wanted Betsy to live her life and enjoy living never really comes through to her until the last scene where something happens and she realizes that it just might be time to bring herself home and live for not only her but Nathan too. A mother’s wish for her daughter, a man’s finger hoping to tell his story, an epilogue that brings it all together and a story that will bring tears to your eyes, a smile to your face each time Betsy helps someone find their way home or just makes his live easier as the story draws to a close and Betsy has to decide how to start at the beginning once more. A compelling, thought provoking story that everyone needs to read in order to understand what happens when young men go off to war and come back in different states of mind. So many sacrifices and so many who still need to come home before the amount of Revenants rises.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine
Let’s dedicate this to all of the veterans past, present and future.