“…my job is room-looking-into. I look into rooms, and I see what goes on in those rooms. And when I see something not quite right, and sometimes it takes hours – or even days – to catch something not quite right, sometimes it takes weeks or months or years to see something’s just a little, let’s say, uncomfortable, then I go into that room. I go into that room at night, without making a sound, and I take out the one thing that made me just a little bit stressed, that think that wasn’t quite right or quite good or quite clean. And no one will ever know that I was there”.
Jason, a 27-year-old SEAL, has been missing for nine days following an operation somewhere in the Middle East. His mother, Sara, is at home in Pennsylvania with Sam, one of Jason’s colleagues, while she waits for news of Jason’s whereabouts.
The novel’s written from a third person subjective viewpoint which switches between Sara and Jason. Sara’s narrative is used to tell us about Jason as a boy and both her and Jason’s relationship with Jason’s father. Jason tells us about SEAL training, his girlfriend and life in the military.
Despite Jason’s father, David, buying him a ‘Boss sixteen-gauge’ as a baby present, Jason grows up more interested in art and writing than guns. His father’s death when he’s eight doesn’t seem to influence his life plans but, when they happen, the events of 9/11 do:
…anyone who met him today would say, Soldier. Fighter. They would want him on their team. As a mother she was willing to engage in pride over fear and to admit the possibility that his sacrifice was hers, too. His sacrifice was something she had been able to give her country.
Jason gives us a different perspective. Firstly, the absence of his father has had an impact – we see how he used books to try and get closer to him, reading on the topics he knows interested him; he shares his understanding of his mother’s need for her son in David’s absence and how he feels his own absence will help her be stronger and live her own life, and we understand his motivation for becoming a SEAL:
…having grown up without a man in his life, he was now determined to pass the world’s hardest test for becoming one.
Which leads us to the second difference in Jason and his mother’s viewpoints: Jason doesn’t really consider becoming a SEAL a sacrifice. He enjoys it and when he’s on leave, he’s desperate to get back to it. There’s also a conversation with a superior officer which makes it clear that they see their choice as a career which gives them a sense of fulfilment. It’s an interesting view to offer and it makes the plot Carpenter gives ambiguous in terms of our feelings about Jason’s plight.
Eleven Days is a well-written novel in two ways. Firstly, the prose is simple and smooth making it easy to read – an underrated skill – and secondly, it’s very provocative. The dual viewpoint is designed to make you question the sacrifices that have been made: who’s sacrificed what? Is it a sacrifice if you don’t consider it so but others do? Does country come before family?
I think it’s an interesting book – I raced through it, desperate to know what had happened to Jason – and it left me with plenty of questions and ideas to consider. It’s a perfect novel for book groups.