Rock Paper Tiger (An Ellie McEnroe Novel)
It may not be the most eloquent way to say it, but this book is sure as hell good. As the main character (Ellie Cooper) might exclaim, “God damn right I’ll keep playing. There is nowhere else I want to go.” And once you start reading this story, you will not want to stop. Ellie Cooper is an Iraqi war vet with PTSD who followed her intelligence officer husband to China hoping it would make a difference in their relationship. Once there, however, things start to unravel, and the memory of what she was party to, as a medic in the service, keeps her drinking. It is not long before her not-so-faithful husband and she separate. She starts hanging out with an artist friend/lover named Lao Zhang and lives each day without much purpose or direction. It is when she briefly meets a Chinese minority friend at Lao’s that her seemingly benign existence is challenged and uprooted from its already shaky foundation. Ellie soon finds herself being chased, hassled, and intimidated by numerous state, private, and clandestine agencies. She’s not sure who is full of it or where to turn for help. Lao disappears and the only way she eventually gets any direction or support is through characters in a virtual online game, which is the only thin, precarious thread to which she can hold. Ms. Brackmann has either had direct personal experience with the events and places in her story and/or researched and spoken with those that have. Every word of dialogue rings true for each character, and the descriptions of various environments and situations feel valid. This includes life as a soldier in Iraq, the use of torture, being a foreigner in China, and the social nuances of Chinese life, politics, and art. Here is her description of the heat in Iraq. “The heat was like nothing I’ve ever felt before, like the sun and the wind were cooking me down to my bones, drying me out from the inside, and no amount of water was going to keep me from shriveling up into some girl-shaped piece of jerky.” The protagonist’s inner struggle with what she witnessed at “Camp Falafel” in Iraq, combined with the circumstances she finds herself in in China, takes readers through a wonderful panorama of doubt, insecurity, and questioning about what one can and/or should do and how much is ultimately out of our control. One of the many reasons this story reads so well is because of Ellie's thoughts, feelings, and dialogue. She sounds like someone who could have joined the National Guard to help with her educational future. She reacts to people and situations in Iraq and China the way a lot of people do when they have no control over their surroundings and/or fear for their lives and future. Lisa Brackmann does an excellent job of making Ellie real. Ellie’s not the smartest gal in town nor a moron. Her looks don’t knock people off their seats nor make them turn away. Ellie could be your sister or friend, someone who ended up in the wrong places at the wrong times and did the best she could to survive. When you read Rock Paper Tiger you will become one of Ellie’s allies. You will want to know what happens with her family, friends, and lovers. You may even find yourself logging online to find a mythical role-playing game so you can help her find Upright Boar and put an end to the torment with which she has been inflicted. As a reader, you will want her to win and find peace—but not too quickly, otherwise the story would end.