Jannicke Blomst (2016)
Reviewed by Keshia Mcclantoc for Reader Views (11/17)
“The Killing Flower” by W.K. Dwyer follows the story of an unnamed narrator’s 2006 tour in Iraq in a post-9/11 world. This story begins with the narrator rejecting God and soon after, signing up to serve in the military and what he believes is a higher purpose. His ventures in Iraq lead him through a myriad of missions and situations, ultimately leading to meeting with a young girl who changes his perspective.
In this novel, Dwyer’s writing excels by creating a suspenseful narrative that immediately pulled me in. Dwyer’s landscapes are gritty and realistic, with thoughtful language that created a well-formed environment for the narrator to occupy. The characters were vibrant and alive, jumping off the page and demanding to be heard. As I read through, the gripping accuracy of the realities of war that were portrayed in this novel became the strongest feature.
Additionally, Dwyer shines in his ability to write a multifaceted and complicated story. Despite the story being told in the first-person narrative, I felt the tensions of the background in every word. The complications of the war, the complex and emotional characters, and running images of the past and present delivered a multi-layered story that is exceedingly more complicated than it appears at first glance. The narrator witnesses accidental homicides and unplanned bombs. He loses loved ones and experiences problems with PTSD and drug abuse. He both loses himself and finds himself. Through all of this, Dwyer proves his ability to portray the multidimensional emotional turmoil that comes with it all. “The Killing Flower” is currently Dwyer’s first and only novel, and in it, he proves himself as more than competent in producing a fully realized narrative.
However, what I feel the narrative lacked most was in maintaining a likable main character. While I have enjoyed many novels with highly flawed and disagreeable leads, I found Dwyer’s unnamed narrator incorrigible. I struggled in reading this work, not for a lack of writing skills or interesting plot, but because the narrator slowly but surely ruined my investment in the story. He was both hypocritical and lacked empathy; he would criticize other characters for being racist or sexist and then make racist or sexist comments a few pages later. He would joke around with certain comrades and then blow up on others for not taking their missions seriously enough. His talk of idealism felt harsh, like a constant moralism being forced unto the reader. Reading through his eyes created a jarring experience, with hardly any room left for sympathy.
In part, I understand Dwyer’s purpose in creating such a jarring narrative. The main character does not have to be likable and many of his bad choices were results of a slowly developing sense of PTSD. While this is understandable, it caused a disconnect between a well written setting and a barely readable main character. Ultimately, the main character is seemingly rewarded as a hero, with what I perceived as little to no character development.
This does not take away from Dwyer’s magnificent writing ability, and outside of the main character, I enjoyed almost every aspect of the novel. My perceived dislike of the main character may also stem from my own bias as a reader who has hardly read war narratives. I think the main character is likely much more readable for those who love war narratives and have a better understanding of PTSD and the atrocities of war. It cannot be denied that “The Killing Flower” by W.K. Dwyer is well written and ultimately delivers a narrative that shows the complexities of being human in a time of strife.