|As noted here, I’m commenting daily on the WMG Holiday Spectacular—which is a great project that releases a story every day. These might be reviews. Or not. They might be interesting. Or … um … not. They will be fun, though. For me, at least.
Here’s the next story.
“Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow”
Tonya D. Price
I am a sucker for World War II stories—or war stories in general, really. But World War II holds particular fascinations, probably because of the nearness of its place in history and for that fact that the reasons for the fight (in retrospect) were so starkly drawn. In the workshop where this Holiday Spectacular project first sprung from, we call this categorical enjoyment “reader cookies” (a phrase Gardner Dozois first coined). It’s a reason I fell into the work of David Steir, for example, a man who is at heart both a soldier and a writer. A good war story amplifies what it means to be human—and that can make a person downright uncomfortable. When I think about the soldiers in these battles, I’m often dumbstruck. They did what?????. And I ponder how it is that a person can be made to handle these things.
Tonya D. Price has interesting takes on war stories. This is, I think, the third of her stories that I’ve read that deal with military conflict. Unlike Stier, though, when Price writes around the war, the work tends to sit on the fringes of it. No battles, as I recall. But lots of tension focused on the impact that such conflict has on the people around them.
“Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow” puts us into the boots of a Russian guard stationed in Dresden a few scant months after the war has ended. It probably does not need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway—it’s relevant, perhaps, that Dresden is the site of horrendous firebombing that British and American branch of the Allied forces reigned down on the German populous. The setting leaves me feeling the full weight of the political arrangements of the time. The Russians are not the sole victors in this battle.
But while Dresden was bombed in February, this story takes place in December—ten months after that bombing—a couple weeks before Christmas. The war is over. The city is rebuilding. Each of the three allies that waged the bulk of the war are sifting through their own forms of rubble to move onward toward a new politics that would eventually evolve into a different kind of war.
Yeah, I know. I’m spinning out of control. That’s what World War II stories do to me, though. Reader cookies, right? What are you going to do but to eat them on up?
It struck me as I was reading “Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow” that the timing means that the trials at Nuremburg would have been essentially just started, which got me to thinking of what war crimes are, and who decides when they’ve been committed. If things had gone haywire, and the Axis had managed to win the war, would someone have been put on trial for the bombing of Dresden, and if so, who?
I don’t mean to be controversial with that comment. I don’t know the answer though. Truly, I do not.
What I do know as I enter the world of this story is that Anton, our Russian soldier, has a field of expertise that includes bombs and explosives. He’s cold and tired and probably a little hungry. His shift has been long, and he’s mentally drained by dealing with the aftereffects of the war. He’s charged with maintaining the peace over people of the conquered city as well as dealing with the internal workings of his own army—both of which combine to create a situation that could be as dangerous as the war itself. Tensions are high. Trigger fingers tight.
I’ll not dwell too heavily on the plot because to do so would obviously ruin things.
Let’s just say Tonya D. Price knows how to write, and she has something to say. There will be a theft along the way, though—or will there? A gunshot will be heard, or was it? I think Tonya is playing a little with historical bits, though I could be wrong. Things hold together, though. We will find that Anton has a secret, and that this secret will mix with the other things I’ve mentioned, and with a boy and a fellow soldier and a top-secret visit (that, like many such things, isn’t all that secret to the rank and file) to—like most things about war—create an amalgam that’s hard to predict.
Time has moved on in the real world, of course. As I type this, this story is set exactly 76 years ago to the day.
I’m struck by Anton, though. His situation (and millions more just like them), as grim as they were, created where we are today. Of course, today is not be exactly perfect, right? There be monsters in the hills. Yet there’s only one thing to do, I think. We get through to our future the same way as Anton gets through to whatever his future is going to be. By caring. By doing what we think is right. One moment at a time. With hope that goodness and mercy will follow.
Bottom line: It’s a helluva story.