Wounded terribly in an explosion in Iraq three years ago (an explosion which killed his friend, the novel's narrator), a soldier awaits his death in a burn center in San Antonio as his wife grieves and agonizes over whether or not he should be taken off life support.
In his short novel, Ackerman accomplishes what a mountain of maximalist books have rarely delivered over tens of thousands of pages and a few decades: He makes pure character-based literary art, free of irony, free of authorial self-aggrandizement, dedicated only to deeply human storytelling. Waiting for Eden is a journey through the traumas, betrayals and ecstasies of contemporary warfare and the multiple lives touched and sometimes shattered by one combat injury or death. Be forewarned, there is more trauma here than ecstasy, yet there is also grace and wonder. Ackerman accomplishes so much in so few pages that the book feels nearly unclassifiable ... To identify this book as a novel seems inadequate: Waiting for Eden is a sculpture chiseled from the rarest slab of life experience. The sculptor’s tools are extreme psychological interrogation and clear artistic vision. It is a vision from which we might discover some new knowledge about war and being—perhaps even regain a moral core.
This is a tautly written, gripping read that, in the best tradition of war-related fiction, reminds us in unflinching detail of the awful cost of battle. However, it also, surprisingly, pays homage to other genres. Part mystery, part thriller, part unconventional love story, Waiting for Eden explores with gravity and sensitivity the profound questions of love and fidelity, duty and honor, and how one creates a life worth living.
Those new to [Ackerman] will discover a writer whose novella-sized book has a beguiling simplicity with sentences that move at an unhurried pace, all of it easily read in one sitting ... The language lacks lyrical flourish for the most part, though there are moments when the sentences gesture toward an overt beauty ... Waiting for Eden suggests that the dead care more for the living than most of the living do for one another. It is a story that might serve as a call for compassion, or at least awareness, for those wounded in our wars — as well as their loved ones and caregivers.