March 11, 2013: “Kattekoppen” by Will Mackin
Stories about war are very hard to pull off, I think. This one’s not bad, although I have to say I wasn’t really feeling the emotional truth of it, something that I look for after reading Tim O’Brien’s story, “How to Tell a True War Story.” (On the other hand, please read the Q&A with Will Mackin, where the author DOES deliver some emotional truth.)
What I like most about this story is the use of the “kattekoppen,” a sort of Dutch licorice in the shape of cat faces, that the point of view character uses to mask the smell of death on a mission to recover the bodies of two soldiers. This candy tastes awful, but it’s the only way he can tolerate the stench. The rest of the story, which deals with various patrols and tactics for attempting to accurately deliver howitzer fire, doesn’t do a whole lot for me.
The Q&A makes a point of telling us that this is the author’s first public fiction and that he owes a debt of gratitude to George Saunders (a frequent contributor to the magazine). What do you suppose the editor is suggesting there?