Tag Archives: Phil Klay

Lean and Choice: Parsing the Fat in Phil Klay’s Redeployment


It gave me pause to learn that Phil Klay’s 2014 bestseller Redeployment won the National Book Award for Fiction last year. When I finally finished the collection of short stories, I felt deflated, not by the warfare or the PTSD or the moment in the poignant, titular story where the protagonist shoots his dying dog, but by Klay’s clichéd, sexist descriptions of several female characters throughout the book. While Klay probably meant to showcase the male chauvinist bravado of a solider, the descriptions still strike me as outdated, even in the spirit of attempting to craft realistic characters in the atmosphere or culture of a war story. It’s not the book’s dialogue that bothers me—it’s Klay’s descriptions guiding us toward the visualization and realization of these women. Since the stories are told mostly in first person, the lack of distance between author and narrator suggests, at times, that we as readers are encouraged to see the women as the soldiers do. In these stories, as in so many recent narratives about masculine violence—from Breaking Bad to The Sopranos—the proximity of narrator and author forces us to ask: when are such depictions taking a critical, if sympathetic, stance on that kind of cultural misogyny, and when are they simply replicating it? I would argue that when, say, Klay’s go-to expression for older or more haggard women is “ugly,” he walks a fine line between unsparing realism and simply unpolished sexism. Continue reading

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