Brief Encounters with the Enemy
The Dial Press
Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s book of short stories, Brief Encounters with the Enemy, describes life for contemporary working-class Americans. We enter into a nameless river city. A war is going on, a war that we dread hearing about. At the same time, though, Sayrafiezadeh begins to tell it in such an intriguing and therapeutic way that we feel comforted by these stories, knowing that we Americans are in this thing together. The narrator’s name and job change in each story, but he speaks of the same nameless city and the same war in the same voice. We understand him to be the same character as he was in the last story. Although war remains the emphasis of Sayrafiezadeh’s writing throughout, the author touches on multiple human issues, American (and most of the time, universal) struggles: self-esteem deficiencies, excessive or feigned patriotism, and religious battles. In one story, Nick—our gentile protagonist—is smitten with a Jewish girl named Zlottie. Zlottie goes on a date to an amusement park with Nick in his small hometown, taken way out of her insular, familiar, Jewish world. This happens to be Zlottie’s first time going to an amusement park, and she has a blast. Friends and acquaintances of Nick recognize him, which delightfully surprises Zlottie. This Jewish girl has left her comfort zone and has entered into another, non-Jewish world, and it turns out that it’s not to be feared. The narrator describes the physique of everyone around him in this story and in all of the other stories. By doing so, we get a sense that America is composed of different human shapes born for a single purpose: to go to war with the enemy. These other characters that he describes are obese. They are strong. They are beautiful. Descriptions of this kind help us to see through Sayrafiezadeh’s lens the state of America, as the war marches on—this ostensibly endless war. Sayrafiezadeh’s book culminates in the heart-pounding title story, in which the protagonist comes face to face with the enemy. Brief Encounters with the Enemy is an original, multi-layered work that can be difficult to digest all at once, yet it is impossible not to appreciate Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s three-dimensional characters, carefully observed American settings, and complex emotions for the soldiers going off to and returning home from war.
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