A quietly magnificent addition to the canon of war novels, Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre is reassuringly tragic in its honesty. Michael Pitre, a two-tour Marine veteran, deftly weaves his experiences in Iraq into a heart-breakingly entertaining first novel.

Sometimes war is necessary—World War II was inevitable once Hitler came to power. Since then, however, the United States has not been involved in even one unavoidable war. There is no good war. War does horrific things to participant and victim alike. War creates numbing gore, permanent physical and mental damage, a lifetime of nightmares, death. Still, often in the retelling, war gets romanticized, sanitized, justified. There’s none of that in Fives and Twenty-Fives.

With an effective first-person narrative shared among three members of the same combat unit, Pitre moves back and forth from present to past and back, slowly defining the pain of their present with the experiences from their past. Lt. PE Donovan is back in the States, in business school getting his M.B.A, doing his best to avoid any unnecessary human interaction. Corpsman Lester Pleasant has returned to a dead-end job at an oil change shop, stuck and unable to progress. Awol from his conscripted job as an interpreter for the U.S. army, Kateb has escaped Iraq for Tunisia during the Arab spring. All three are unsuccessfully doing their best to forget what happened to them during their tenure in Iraq. Once united by the thread of war, their lives are now inextricably tied together through shared trauma, and only a re-connection and a willingness to share may help them quiet their nightmares and move forward with their lives.

Whether he intended it or not, Michael Pitre’s Fives and Twenty-Fives is a piercing indictment of war’s lasting effects. I highly recommend reading it!