Thumbprint: A Story, by Joe Hill

Eight stars

Joe Hill pulls readers in with this short story that offers both entertainment and social commentary of the highest order. PFC Mallory ‘Mal’ Grennan was highly effective while serving under Uncle Sam in Iraq. Her time dealing with prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison helped hone a hard outer shell, as she was always to stay out of the limelight and within rage of the camera’s eye. Little soft or nurturing characteristics appeared during her time with those who backed the dreaded Butcher of Baghdad. Now back on US soil, Mal receives a black thumbprint, alone on a white sheet of paper; no note or explanation accompanying it. Unable to decipher what it means, she returns to work, tending bar at one of the local watering holes. As the narrative progresses, Mal splits her time dealing with a present-day blackmail scheme and flashbacks to time in Iraq. More thumbprints emerge, leaving Mal to wonder if someone has taken offence to her making a buck off men who want a cheap thrill, though it is only when she returns home after a weekend shift that all becomes clear. Hill is able to keep the reader flipping pages in hopes of discovering what lies beneath, all while providing strong arguments surrounding US Military treatment of Iraqis in the mid-2000s.

While the story took me under an hour to read, its themes resonate with me even now. This is the second piece by Hill that I have read, both of which were chock-full of social commentary on society and the treatment of others. While some might say I am digging too deep and not reading for enjoyment, as I mentioned in an earlier review, Hill presents his ideas so clearly that the reader would be remiss not to notice them. In crafting the Mal character, Hill is able to effectively paint the portrait of an Iraqi war vet, perhaps jaded and scarred by what she has seen. The story was brief enough that forward development was not possible to notice, though the reader surely develops an understanding of her backstory and can surmise what is to come after the final lines of the story drift into the literary ether. This story comes highly recommended and is brief enough that a lunch break or brief period of quiet is all one needs to absorb what he has to say.

Kudos, Mr. Hill for another great piece of writing. I am not sure where I have been all this time, but am glad to have discovered you lately.