*I received a free copy of this book, with thanks to the author. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
RECIPIENT OF THE B.R.A.G. MEDALLION
Blurb: Raised in a religious immigrant family, Mercy rebels against all rules. To avoid a destined path of self-destruction, Mercy enlists in the Army. He becomes an exceptional squad leader. After two combat tours, Mercy returns home wounded. Trying to forget about the lives that he has taken and resume a “normal” life, Mercy enrolls in college and reconnects with a childhood crush. Mercy saved some of his men. Can he save himself?
Don’t be fooled by the cutesy romance-looking cover! Mercy’s First Semester is not a college romance, but a gritty look at war and how its after-effects continue to bleed into civilian life long after the supposed ‘return to normality’. Mercy is Joshua Mercier, a Cavalry Scout who has been medically discharged and is trying to piece together a life in peacetime. He originally joined the Army to keep himself out of neighbourhood trouble, and now turns to God and to the writing of his wartime memoir to find a new purpose in life.
Bunche examines the dichotomy that the skills that make someone an exemplary soldier in wartime may fit them for greater struggle to integrate in general society, and also that there may be greater wars than those fought on the battlefield – the Black Lives Matter movement features integrally and really helps to drive home that message, along with a serious running message about the struggle of life and the random inevitability of death.
The timeline moves around quite a bit from present to past and back, and a fairly large plot point is therefore revealed very early in the novel. Some may find the back and forth confusing (although the author does helpfully orient us using the chapter headers), but personally I quite enjoyed the feeling of an immersion in Mercy’s memories. It gave me a feeling of sharing his experiences as the memories flit through his mind, with random associations sending him off into different reminiscences.
There is an interesting sub-theme about the nature of storytelling and creative writing. How much of what we are reading is fictionalised or exaggerated for narrative effect as Mercy refines his memoir writing technique? Trick question! It’s all fiction as the memoir is within this novel. But the author, W. M. Bunche has relevant combat experience of his own… I really enjoyed this meta-writing that worked at different levels.
Whilst clearly a Christian book, featuring a religious central character, I did not find that this aspect was overly intrusive to the plot, which focused more on the search for meaning in this life.
Mercy’s First Semester is an interesting insight into war, but more so into the challenges facing a veteran in the civilian life that follows.
Joshua Toussaint Mercier (aka Mercy) remembered the golden hour. The critical life saving hour following a traumatic injury. With proper medical treatment, there is a great possibility of survival. Without proper medical treatment, Taps. He remembered the roar of the medvac chopper’s blades rotating overhead, kicking up desert dust. His bullet ridden body lay on a gurney. It was shuffled onto the chopper by four armed soldiers. He never thought he would be the patient. He thought he would die by bullet or bomb, not feeling a thing. He would awaken when Jesus resurrected him.
– W. M. Bunche, Mercy’s First Semester
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Mercy’s First Semester is available on Amazon right now.