The Way Back

A Soldier's Journey

Fiction - Historical - Event/Era
212 Pages
Reviewed on 04/03/2014
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

Susan Carnes grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm on the south shore of Great Lake Superior, and already at age 10 could turn square corners with a tractor while cutting hay, gentle and race horses, play Rachmaninoff on the piano, and get some blue ribbons for her artwork at the fair. An avid skier and skater during the winter months, her best times were on the rivers, canoeing, fishing and swimming. She loved to read stories and direct plays. After a degree from Iowa State University, she married, taught school and earned two Master's Degrees while farming and raising three sons. Susan counseled in addiction programs, practiced art therapy and biofeedback in chronic pain centers, and later became a school counselor in Oregon. When she moved toward retirement in Washington State, Susan coordinated 4-H on 5 islands, went back to school, mastered stained glass techniques, continued hobbies of dancing and white water rafting, and then she got busy.
While spending winters in Mexico, Susan joined the Mazatlan Writers Group and wrote her first book, My Champion, about a 10 year old girl who didn't appreciate what she had. She illustrated it with 21 oil paintings and used her grandchildren as models. "Writing for me is like putting together pieces of my own life and making sense of it," Susan says. Her second book, The Way Back is about the struggles of a World War 1 vet to deal with PTSD forged in the trenches of France.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Rich Follett for Readers' Favorite

The Way Back: A Soldier’s Journey by S.K. Carnes tells the story of John Chapman, a World War I veteran with PTSD and a poet’s soul. He finds work as a farmhand with a dairy farming family who, in their own stalwart, beholden-to-no-one way, help him find the ‘way back’ to wellness and a happy life. The narrative is a kind of historical/poetic frame story, weaving together the lives of three generations of characters through the central prism of Chapman’s journal, found in a barn being torn down in present day Wisconsin and lovingly shared by the author as a tribute to Chapman.

The Way Back: A Soldier's Journey alternately features lush and lyrical narration, Chapman’s poems (copied from his journal), carefully researched historical and cultural references from World War I through the Great Depression and the dawning of World War II, and colloquial Wisconsin dialogue that is as heartwarming and educational as it is funny in that particularly wry Midwestern way that can only be depicted accurately by a native. S.K. Carnes is a gifted writer at the top of her game, capturing the images and episodes of an era and a heartland lifestyle that is rapidly vanishing from the American consciousness with a clarity and poetic vision that render the narrative unique and compelling. In an early glimpse of Chapman, Carnes describes her quiet hero as having “Muckelty-dun eyes rimmed in blue ... eyes of that color could steal your heart away.” Prose like that does not come along every day!

The Way Back: A Soldier’s Journey has something to please any reader - romance, history, adventure, drama, poetry, a quietly epic feel, a magnificently rendered landscape, and eclectic characters unlike any of the ‘ho-hum’ heroes of lesser fiction. Having once entered John Chapman’s world, readers will want to linger, holding close one of the most pure-of-heart and earnestly crafted narratives in recent memory.

Kayti Nika Raet

The Way Back: A Soldier's Story by S.K. Carnes chronicles the journey of John, a World War One vet suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome (known as shell shock back then). Suffering from blinding headaches, incredible mood swings, and gaps in his memory that affect his job and his home life, John leaves for a small town in Wisconsin to work as a farm hand for Dan who operates a dairy farm. The years go by and while the effects of the war haven't completely let go of him, John is able to manage by keeping a journal, writing poetry, and talking with a group of other war vets who tell each other their stories. Eventually he finds his own sort of peace and learns to love again.

Although The Way Back is slow, it's by no means boring. Instead Carnes' writing is lyrical, almost poetic; one can almost smell the hay and feel the heat rising off the cows. Though it's set in the 1920s and '30s, it seems like The Way Back was intended to relate to soldiers everywhere and that, despite the ravages of war, there are still people willing to help and support them. In the beginning I had a little trouble correctly placing some of the characters since many of them had names of similar length and began with the same letter, but as the story progressed I found myself really enjoying Lori's character as Dan's tomboyish daughter. The Way Back: A Soldier's Story by S.K. Carnes is great for anyone looking for a novel that gets into the lives of vets coupled with the tranquil atmosphere of vintage Wisconsin.

Faridah Nassozi

Twelve years after coming home from the war, John was still fighting, but this time he was fighting the demons from the war that had taken away his life, leaving only a shadow of his old self. The damage from the war left him with many emotional scars that led to him losing the family he had cherished. He left home looking for work, hoping to find something that would help him get better so he could be the man he was before the war. When he found work as a barn builder on a farm, all he could do was try his best, one day at a time, recording every glorious moment that he spent on the farm. The people there became his new family, including their little girl Lori, whom he cared for as he would his own child. Now very many decades later, that little girl uses his journal to try to tell the story of the man who built the magnificent barn and how he impacted on her life forever.

The Way Back: A Soldier's Journey by S.K. Carnes is a story about a man's struggle to be himself again after a war that left him just a shell, filled with rage at the universe. The book is brimming with anguish and triumph as a man fights unseen demons, trying to overcome the damage that took his soul. The tone in which the story is told makes it very easy to connect with John through his struggles, feel empathy for him through his losses, and celebrate his victories. As I read John's story, I could clearly 'see' the beautiful farmland that offered him a second chance at life, replete with crops and animals and all the amazing characters that cared for them.

By PJ Reece "peri geo" (S

5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece, seriously, April 16, 2014
By PJ Reece "peri geo" (Sunshine Coast, BC) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Way Back: A Soldier's Journey (Kindle Edition)
Even if you don't know or care anything about Wisconsin or horses or heifers or barns or bulls named Goliath or World War One or PTS syndrome or poetry or love or anguish or murder or friendship or magic... this is a book to love for its language alone. This is a book I couldn't put down simply because the poetry of the storytelling warmed me all over. Read the other reviews for the synopsis, because I only want to rave about S. Carnes' way with words. This is one of those novels that wows you with its artistic tumble of words, their rhythm, their authenticity, their tension, all creating fresh meaning and perspective. I was privy to this as a work-in-progress, and I must tell you how I am delighted to see the pieces fall together so well. Susan C. is a talent beyond her wild imaginings. More, Sue, more!

Bob Whittaker

Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Way Back: A Soldier's Journey (Kindle Edition)
A story that will capture your heart, and pull you inside the pages so that you forget you are the reader and you become part of story too.
I hope S.K. Carnes will continue to write such wonderful human interest stories.

Susan J-M Herrera

I loved this book! I was sort of a birthing coach as S.K. was producing this masterpiece. I actually read it through 3 times and yet when the news came that it was published, I bought it and read it again. The book is a tapestry of rich dialogue, descriptive imagery, colorful and likeable characters and a great story line. I was captivated right away with the earnestness with which the author entices the reader. S.K. has achieved a beautiful balance of history, memoir and storytelling that is thoroughly enjoyable while at the same time taking on the complex subject of PTSD against a post WWI background--a time when so little was known about the mental and emotional trauma of war. I can't say enough good things about this book and I look forward to S.K. Carnes' next one!