Much of Elliot Ackerman’s Waiting for Eden takes place in a hospital room. A room where Eden Malcolm has been in a coma for three years. He was a young man so full of life that
He treated the whole world, too, like it was a series of cliffs that existed for no other reason than for him to jump off.
But now his body below his torso is gone, lost to an IED in Iraq, and what’s left is an open wound from extensive burns. He is deaf and almost blind and to the outside world there is no way of knowing that in the last few days parts of his mind have awakened. Awakened enough to recognize where he is, to feel excruciating physical and mental pain, but with no way to do anything about it.
Eden is just one of three narrators in Waiting for Eden. The other is his wife, Mary, and the third is an unnamed man, Eden’s friend and fellow soldier, who was killed in the accident that injured Eden. Through these three, Ackerman weaves a textured tapestry of friendship, marriage, loyalty, pain, and of wanting—in all its forms. Before the deployment, each is filled with wanting, but none for the same thing. It’s the same when he returns. There is Eden, a body, but no longer the person he was. Just pain and fragmented thought. There is Mary, left to wait while Eden’s gone and waiting again when his body comes back without his mind. And then, the friend, who found himself falling in love with his closest friend’s wife and who now waits for Eden to join him on the other side.
It’s worth noting that Ackerman served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. It shows in his writing, which is as clipped and to-the-point as military communications. But within his sparse sentences there is an emotional weight that punches hard. His sentences are snipers, hitting at exactly the point that hurts most. The impact is of all the wanting and waiting is staggering.
Waiting for Eden is one of those books that is going to provoke a strong reaction. For some it will be positive and others negative. I came down on the negative—NOT for the book or Ackerman’s writing, but for the novel’s resolution. It regards an intensely personal decision and the choice made was antithetical to my beliefs. Having said that, this is a quietly powerful novel that should be read and discussed.