book review: The Home Front

home front

The Home Front By Margaret Vandenburg.
The Permanent Press| February 2015.|212 pages |$28.00| ISBN: 978-1-57962-386-9

Rating: ***/5*

Todd Barron works as a drone pilot stationed in Nevada. He drops bombs on Afghanistan in video-game style during the day and attempts to reach his autistic son when he gets home. His wife Rose found an online support network. She’s feeding the family a vegan diet, has read everything she can on autism, hired a behavioral therapist and calls in to her online guru with increasing frequency, until her credit card maxes out. Max’s autism creates an immense amount of tension in this family. He doesn’t speak. He’ll only eat round brown food. Max’s sister functions virtually unnoticed by the rest of the family. She’s hardly mentioned throughout this novel.

There’s a distinctly masculine tone to The Home Front despite being written by a female author. Perhaps because it deals with the drone program and the U.S. military, author Margaret Vandenburg felt it required this macho-ness. I found Todd too gruff, too impatient and too pessimistic. And I thrive on darkness. This just didn’t bode well for a family story about juggling a military assignment with the extra responsibility required by a child with autism. Todd met his wife while she worked in used car sales, a male-dominated environment. One in which Rose must be competitive and assertive. That attracted him. Now her New Agey-ness turns him off. He’s becoming distant and considers redeployment.

“He called her Polyanna behind her back, muttering to himself to bolster his own more pragmatic approach. In turn, Rose accused Todd of being negative. She and her Facebook friends complained about their husbands almost as much as they compared notes on treatment options.”

While told in the third person, it seems to be Todd’s story. Maybe opening with Todd grumbling about the vegan diet made me wary: “Eating organically was like sucking meals through a straw, and his jaws ached for something more substantial than tofu and quinoa. At this rate his family would starve to death.” Unlikely. Not going to get into the misconceptions on a vegan diet but it’s all wrong. Todd’s distain for his wife’s attempts to make the family healthier in body and mind sets a negativity that carries throughout the novel.

Shortly after, he’s grumbling about the futility of his job: “Todd had spent the afternoon floating from one virtual cockpit to the next, feeling more like a systems analyst than an air force officer. The army may have been willing to let Nintendo nerds fly armed Predators, but USAF drone squads were supervised by seasoned pilots like himself.” His wife is the good military wife holding the fort at home. Keeping everything simple for him. When she begins to drift off into her Facebook friends and takes advice from this online guru as part of something called The Source, the couple doesn’t fare well.

Then there’s how Todd feels about reading books to his daughter, Maureen: “Maureen always wanted him to read another story, but he hated children’s books. They were either saccharine or preachy.” What a guy. How will this family remain a unit?

It’s a short novel and Vandenburg excels at writing about the military and the drone program– how it functions, what’s required of the participants. She details several missions. The autism information didn’t intrigue me as much. The telling too academic, lacking compassion. She creates a solid comparison by utilizing the drone program. That’s targeted, precise and finite. Autism treatment is vast, malleable and uncertain. The book falls a bit flat in traversing between the head and the heart. Detailing Todd and Rose’s faltering relationship and the complexities in dealing with a child with autism. What cure is there? It’s all open-ended.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from The Permanent Press.

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