Book Review: THE SURVIVOR by Gregg Hurwitz

Since 9/11, thousands of military service people have died in our two Middle East wars. Hundreds-to-thousands more have killed themselves. The numbers for veteran suicide are slippery because the DOJ tends to stop counting once a soldier leaves the service and if they don’t enroll with an organization like the VA, they don’t get counted in those ranks. The reasons are varied. One of those reasons starts off THE SURVIVOR.

Nate is a former reservist who once had it all. No, not like Mitt Romney or Bill Gates. He had a loving wife, a baby girl, a house, a job that he didn’t love but liked enough and that paid enough. When he returned from the Desert, he couldn’t hold it together. Nightmares and guilt were making him come unglued. When he found out he was sick on top of it all, that he’d slowly deteriorate until his body’s war against itself killed him, he found himself on a ledge, ready to jump while he still could.

And then…

“And then” is the crux of any good story and this one’s a doozy. Nate witnesses a bank robbery in progress and despite his suicidal tendencies, feels compelled to try to stop it. Not because he wants to be a hero. Just because it seems like the right thing to do. Besides, he’s not worried about getting killed. That was his whole reason for being there.

It’s that, that suicidal nature, that informs a lot of Nate’s decisions and actions. He’s coming from a place of resignation and when the bad guys make threats against his family, his anger and fear have nothing to do with what they might do to him and everything to do with what they might do to them.

As his life slides further out of control, though, he finds the opportunity to make right – even just a little – some of the things he got wrong. Which, is, for me the ultimate essence of the book. It’s a book about redemption, but it’s not one with a guaranteed happy ending. What was that line from Die Hard about not walking off into the sunset with Grace Kelly. That. Nate is on a quest to redeem himself, even if not consciously, but he’s not trying to save himself, and there’s a difference.

Pros: It’s a fast-paced roller coaster ride of a book that’s also filled with the pathos and minutia of daily life. It’s not easy to balance those things and Hurwitz has done it well.

Cons: Nate frequently makes decisions a man afraid of dying wouldn’t make. He does things a man concerned with the future wouldn’t do, maybe even to save his family, and that might be a sticking point for some readers. It is also violent, so it’s not for the squeamish, but then again, neither is life these days.

Bottom Line: Great book. Multi-layered. Ends like it should. Will make you put off deadlines and appointments to finish it.