David Litwack says, “Nothing inspires his writing like the beautiful scenery of Cape Cod.” The chilled crash of the shore and the craggy trees of the Cape are starkly evident in the pages of Litwack’s Along the Watchtower. The atmosphere he creates by means of the Cape is just one of the many successful aspects of this novel.
Fredrick Williams is an Army Lieutenant leading his squad on a patrol in Iraq when he is gravely wounded. A man obsessed with the video game, World of Warcraft, Fredrick believes his distraction with the game is what diverted his attention and led to his injuries and the death of his closest friend, the man he calls archangel.
When we first meet Freddie, he suspects, not only that his injuries are serious, but that his friend is probably dead. What he is sure of, is that the incident was his fault. He had led his men into bandit country and had been distracted. He floats in and out of consciousness as he is transported to an aide station where the medical team decides to keep him in an induced coma until he can get to Ramstein Airbase for further treatment.
It’s while he is in a coma that Freddie first enters the world of The Stormwind, a land where the king, Fredrick’s father, has just died. Fredrick, the prince of Stormwind, has thirty days to pass a series of tests to gain the throne. If he fails to pass in the allotted time, the kingdom will be overrun by The Horde and all will face “the end of life as we know it.”
Litwack makes movement between the realities of Fredrick’s recovery from his wounds to the fantasy world of Stormwind seamless and convincing. Most times, Fredrick is unaware that he is living the two realities. At other times, the recovering veteran is confused about what is real and what isn’t. His journey in both worlds is filled with trials and challenges that are mostly heart wrenching and confusing rather than fearsome. That doesn’t diminish the level of bravery modern day Freddie displays as he confronts his pain both physically and mentally. He is aided in his journey by Becky, Freddie’s physical therapist. In Stormwind, Rebecca is the gardener of Fredrick’s royal grounds. Both women play key roles in the journey of their Fredrick with patience, and bravery of their own.
I loved this book. I wrapped myself in a blanket, snuggled with the cat and allowed myself to be absorbed into the pages. The metaphors of the injury and recovery, the fantasy world and the struggle to heal are obvious, but that doesn’t make them any less effective. There were times when I wanted to cry for Freddie…both Fredricks, but I didn’t. While both stories are tragic and filled with discoveries of one painful truth after another, there’s something heroic about Freddie even when he refuses to admit it. He agonizes over confronting the things too painful for him to remember, but he does it anyway because he knows he must.
More than 30,000 American service men and women have been wounded in Iraq alone, tens of thousands more in Afghanistan. It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands more have traumatic brain injuries. Litwack’s portrayal of the excruciating recovery from the catastrophic injuries so many service members endure is moving and awe-inspiring. This story brings us into the hospital rooms and VA clinics all over this country, where our men and women are fighting through the pain of physical therapy, struggling to remember the names of those once close to them and attempting to come to terms with how their lives have changed because of their injuries. I can only hope that the portrayal of the dedicated medical professionals Litwack presents in this book is realistic. Our brave men and women who have sacrificed so much deserve nothing less.
Along the Watchtower is available in ebook and trade paperback at most online retailers.