The Bibliography to Lea Carpenter’s first novel, “Eleven Days” in part reads as follows:
“Admiral McRaven oversaw Operation Neptune Spear, the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 2, 2011, that killed Osama bin Laden. According to public record, eleven other raids were conducted that night. The story is inspired in part by that coincidence. We don’t know about those other raids and likely never will.”
Ms. Carpenter in her Acknowledgments recognizes the Admiral’s 1995 book “Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice”. Her quote from that book is reflected in the novel’s Dedication:
“For the one who said, ‘only tactical competence, and humility, impresses me.”
The Note about the Author is Spartan. The author lives in New York with her husband and her two sons. The Acknowledgment at its end is more revealing. “Edmund N. Carpenter II: soldier, scholar, father.” Mr. Carpenter was a World War II veteran; a recipient of the Bronze Star, a law partner; and at 17 the author of an essay “Before I Die” which achieved some acclaim, having been published in the Wall Street Journal. Ms. Carpenter read the essay at her father’s funeral in 2008, and it likely influenced this novel which is Long Listed for the 2014 Women’s Prize for Fiction (aka Baileys Women’s Prize).
The story is about a Navy Seal from the perspective of his single mother. Her son, Jason (from the Argonauts), asks her to distinguish myth from fiction. Her answer is “A myth is a fiction that matters.” I think Ms. Carpenter was aiming for myth, but “Eleven Days” is fiction. It is informative about Seal training, but it is more movie script or formulaic in the genre of heroic spy novels and thrillers. She does not impart perfection to Jason, but he is the traditional stand-out: scholar; perfect son; soldier. His Dad, David, who abandoned his son and his mother, Sara, after Jason’s birth, for clandestine work abroad, is tarnished but exalted. Sara understands and still has feelings for David years later. David is the operative that all aspire to be.
I have not read any of the other books that have been Long Listed for the Folio this year, but “Eleven Days” is not a book that I would Long or Short List. It is unfortunate because I believe Ms. Carpenter has passion for the subject, and imparted scholarship along the way. For my taste, the characters were too lightly drawn.
There are passages that I liked. Some conveyed a timely message:
“If it be now, ’tis not to come;
If it be not to come, it will be now;
If it be not now, yet it will come;
The readiness is all.”
Jason, like many young men his age in the U.S., is a product of 9/11. There is community and commitment among those who so serve. There are no heroes, only practiced discipline and preparedness. This is Ms. Carpenter’s theme, but the myth is regrettably subsumed by the mystique.