The day Warren Harlan Pease returns home from the war in Iraq, the first person he meets is Jesus. Dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, Jesus walks from the ocean onto the New Hampshire beach where Warren goes to find solace. What follows is a journey through Warren’s life, as Jesus—who insists Warren call him “Ray”—travels with Warren to meet the family and friends who stayed behind when Warren went to war.
One by one, Warren introduces Ray to his loved ones: first to Bethie, Warren’s high school sweetheart and the mother of his daughter, Dodie; then, in turn, his father, his best friend, Ryan, to whom Bethie is now engaged, and even Warren’s dead mother. As the unlikely pair moves from place to place, Warren’s life unfolds before him again. Soon Warren begins to understand that the journey is one of healing for his soul as much as for his wounds. As the meaning of Warren’s return unfolds, the bitterness of war and loss turns into a discovery of peace and hope.
James Landis’ novel The Last Day is haunting and beautiful, rippling with skillfully intertwined themes of faith, love, religion and war. The voice of the young soldier is powerfully real, carried forth in a simple, direct style that is nevertheless richly poetic and thoroughly compelling. And while Warren does not question his duty in the war, the story does not shirk from the graphic, horrible reality of Iraq itself. Flashback scenes are told in the voice of one who has been there, a soldier in the midst of blood, filth and violence—a vivid contrast to the quiet, intimate moments that surround Warren as Jesus leads him through his home. What makes these disparate visions work so well is that the author completely disappears into Warren’s voice. Reading The Last Day is like sharing Warren’s thoughts, as if the story were a memoir rather than a novel.
But it is a novel, and an exceptional one. Landis writes with mastery and grace, weaving together fiction and philosophy with profound beauty. Through an ordinary hero, Landis has crafted an extraordinary literary work. Like Warren, the reader will discover that The Last Day is worth sharing with loved ones.
Howard Shirley is a writer in Franklin, Tennessee.