All nine of these military novelists are so amazing I couldn’t rank them, so I have listed them in alphabetical order instead. If you’re building your spring or summer reading list, you must start here. Some of these authors I know personally, and others I don’t. All of them have truly inspired me during my writing career.
I first heard National Book Award finalist Elliot Ackerman read at an Armed Services Arts Partnership event, just after Waiting for Eden was published. I immediately bought this slim novel and savored every single word – a work of brilliance. It was entry point into his many breathtaking works of writing.
Her debut short story collection You Know When the Men Are Gone really redefined military spouse literature and made her a household name on military bases and beyond. Her most recent novel, The Confusion of Languages, besides being an astonishing, page-turning story, opened readers up to the complexities of life in the Middle East for military families.
Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times called Matt Gallagher’s Iraq War novel, Youngblood, “an urgent and deeply moving novel” – the highest of praise (it has also been called “the Iraq War’s version of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American”). Matt Gallagher is simply a force in fiction. His most recent novel, Empire City, crackles with life (not to mention his war memoir, Kaboom, that started it all, is a military classic).
In so many ways, Phil Klay is the Tim O’Brien of this generation – a master of evocative wordsmithing. His National Book Award-winning collection of short stories, Redeployment, took my breath away. He recently published Missionaries, which is next on my “must-read” list. Klay’s writing is defining new standards for war fiction.
Tif Marcelo’s moving novel In a Book Club Far Away was chosen as a Book of the Month selection (and was my BOTM purchase for last month!). It follows three Army wives—estranged friends—who must overcome their differences when one of them is desperate for help. Marcelo isn’t just a military spouse – she’s also a veteran army nurse, and a superb writer.
Karl Marlantes served as a Marine in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two Purple Hearts, and ten air medals. His New York Times-bestselling novel, Matterhorn, about the Vietnam War, stunned critics and readers (and me) – no list would be complete without him. Although his 2019 novel Deep River, a family epic, is not about the military, it continues his astounding literary legacy.
The Yellow Birds – stunning, simply stunning. This novel about two young soldiers trying to stay alive in Iraq was a much-deserved National Book Award finalist. His next novel, A Shout in the Ruins, set during the Civil War, solidified his legacy as one of the century’s best war novelists (not to mention a brilliant poet).
Katey Schultz is the author of the searing story collection Flashes of War and the novel Still Come Home. Despite having no immediate ties to the military, I put her on this list because of her dedication to truly understanding war as a civilian: “I had been told that the recent wars there were ‘my generation’s.’ My desire to write the book sprung, in part, out of a sense of duty to understand what going to war could possibly mean, and furthermore, to understand something that was being called mine.” This is an inspiration.
The Washington Post called this semi-autobiographical debut novel (and PEN/HEMINGWAY Award Finalist) a “miracle of literary serendipity.” Walker served as an Army medic in Iraq, and the resulting PTSD sent him on a downward spiral that led him to prison – a testament to the urgency of caring for our returning vets. But he, no doubt, has a bright literary future ahead of him.