This series about two men who lost their legs to IEDs in Iraq is built on a wealth of close detail. The piece chronicles their struggles to recover from their injuries, both physically and psychologically. We appreciated the probing interest in the men’s inner lives, the authoritative portrayal of such inner lives, even as the men put on stoic fronts. Ryan’s muscular stance is evident in writing like this: “He sounded as if he were talking about a character he was creating, and maybe that’s what he was doing: shaping himself, through words, into the man he wanted to be.”
Ryan walks an interesting and tricky line in this piece: On the one hand, the story is absolutely unromanticized. We found the characters, in fact, not fully likable. On the other hand they are also sympathetic. They are fully three-dimensional human beings. To some readers the main characters will be heroes. To others they may be more tragic figures, caught up in a larger drama. Ryan leaves room for both reactions.
Finally, we liked that Ryan uses virtually no quotes (as opposed to dialogue) in the piece. Instead she uses her own words to characterize and summarize. The approach makes the piece a better read; we’re guided through the story by a single, companionable voice.