A number of books lately have tried to work through terror and loss of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars through some larger frame of history. Jennifer Gold’s novel Soldier Doll opens in the present, with a family moving from Vancouver to the sultry summer heat of Toronto, as the father prepares to go to Afghanistan, and a teenager, Elizabeth, struggles with a strange new life.
The novel starts well. Elizabeth is likeable and lively, active, inquisitive. When she discovers an antique doll painted in a soldier’s uniform, her story becomes the support for a series of short pieces, following the doll’s career from the First World War on, not a new idea, but a handy one.
The problem is the short pieces. The gentle style that brings Elizabeth to life does not work well with war stories. These fragments seem all research, accurately told, but reported, not experienced. In the 9/11 segment, for instance, the whole attack is shown on television, the same view all of us already have. This is a chance to use a new perspective, to tell this fresh. Soldier Doll has its moments, but they’re all in present tense.