“The guy talks on the radio about war.
I listen and don’t know whether to care or not.
Should I care, or not care, that’s the question”
— Noah Cicero, The Human War
There’s a push and pull at work at the heart of Noah Cicero’s debut novella, equal and opposite forces born of the distant, nebulous nature of global events. Collected into his debut 2003 release alongside two short stories, The Human War follows twenty-something Mark on the night the invasion of Iraq began (“Two hours till war. / It’s six o’clock. Bush said at eight, people must die”). War is not just imminent but live on TV—the journalistic speculation whetting appetites, Bush’s rhetoric something like the tagline of a trailer, the idea of war familiar enough to invoke anger yet abstract and removed enough to feel unreal, something possible to ignore.
In his lower-class existence in Youngstown, Ohio, Mark finds himself paralysed by this dichotomy, unsure whether to scream in protest or forget himself in cheap drink and empty sex. Whether to join the fight just to shock some life into his nerves and bones. As such, the book operates on two speeds or levels. The terse, tumbling prose captures Mark’s awareness of all this line by line, confusion and disillusionment and anger against the futility of it all, while zoomed out the structure of the narrative is a glacial, directionless slide. While internally thrashing and grasping in search of answers, it translates to nothing more than inertia, one pleasureless drift through strip joints and bars, sharing the company of friends he doesn’t know and girls he both loves and doesn’t.
“When I die, there better be a heaven, because I want an answer for this.”