A while back I reviewed Cara Hoffman’s first novel, ‘So Much Pretty’. The raw intimacy that Hoffman achieved in that novel was so memorable that I kept my eye out for her next work. Her new novel, ‘Be Safe, I Love You’ shows that Cara Hoffman continues to be one of the most original voices writing novels today.
‘Be Safe, I Love You’ tells the story of a soldier returning to the small hometown of Watertown, New York after being in Iraq. Unfortunately the soldier brought some of the war back as well. This is not a new story. In fact, we’ve seen it many times. Two things set this story apart from others. One is that Cara Hoffman has a gift for creating characters that don’t feel invented. The other is that the protagonist of this particular war story is a woman.
This combination results in a novel that at times feels more like a war memoir than a novel. Lauren Clay is one of the most fully realized characters I’ve ever read. By the end of the novel you feel like you know her.
Lauren joined the military because her family had shattered and she needed to provide for her family. Her mother had abandoned the family and her father was left a husk of a man, leaving Lauren to take care of her preteen brother. The relationship she has with her little brother is similar to that of survivors of a catastrophe. It’s clear as the story goes unfolds that Lauren’s war started long before she ever put on a uniform.
It takes some time for the reader and those around Lauren to realize the extent of Lauren’s damage. There is a lit-fuse quality to the entire book. We feel as though it could all go tragically wrong in an instant. Poignantly this is exactly the same feeling Lauren herself has despite being thousands of miles from a war zone.
As I said, the story of the scarred veteran returning home is not new. And even with the welcomed addition of the soldier being female, many of the tropes of the soldier home from war remain. This is one of the points of the novel. The soldiers may change by the wounds never really do.
What sets this apart from your standard war novel isn’t that Lauren Clay is a woman. It’s Cara Hoffman’s effortlessly intimate writing. There’s an immediate closeness to the people and events in ‘Be Safe I Love You’ that isn’t common in these kinds of books. Hoffman’s characters have quiet moments that feel more authentic than the non-stop action or drama you might get from other novels.
Be Safe I Love You manages to be exactly what you want in a second novel. It’s nothing like the first but every bit as powerful and enjoyable to read. I look forward to her third novel.
– Jack Cameron