The Final Line

The Final Line

Kendall McKenna

McKenna tackles so many issues that other M/M romance authors avoid that this book almost seems like a playbook for sensitive issues handled well. The effects of PTSD and the atrocities in war are woven into a framework of gays in the military, presenting a compelling and sympathetic story of a career sergeant and his affair with an actor/singer.

Marine Staff Sergeant Corey Yarwood is good at his job and has no plans to quit as an instructor at the Basic Reconnaissance Course, despite knowing the manifestations of his PTSD are hampering him. At first he self-medicates with alcohol, going to a local bar where he meets Sean Chandler, the musician there.

As they get to know one another and Sean helps Corey overcome some of his anxiety attacks and sleep issues, Corey is pulled into the middle of the case of a Marine with whom he served, who has beaten his girlfriend to death. The Marine says that he suffers from PTSD and that Corey knows the real truth behind what happened in their last deployment. But Corey doesn’t know what the Marine is talking about since his memories of the time are partially gone.

When Sean and Corey’s military friends urge him to get medical help with a psychologist, he grudgingly agrees. Now with medicines to help his anxiety, sleeplessness, and erectile dysfunction, Corey sees his life, especially his relationship with Sean, turning the corner for the better.

McKenna’s down-to-earth approach to military life and the difference in how two traumatized soldiers deal with the aftermath of war make this a compelling story. At first telling himself he’s a Marine and he should be able to get over his anxiety like a man, Corey is incredibly sympathetic. But he becomes really likeable when he realizes that his buck-up and take-it attitude isn’t solving his problems and seeks help.

He still relies on the super-macho attitude of a career Marine, but he switches it to getting help and not placing the blame on PTSD. He wants to have a good relationship with Sean so much that he’s willing to take a few hits to his pride and let others tell him what would be best for him to do.

This is completely opposite from the Marine who killed his girlfriend, a Marine who blames everyone but himself for what he does. He would rather moan about his life getting out of control than getting help or letting anyone help him in a constructive way.

McKenna doesn’t downplay the problems returning soldiers face, but does point out that there are places where they can get help if they want it. The book stresses through Corey and Sean’s relationship that soldiers need to be aggressive in seeking the help they need, not just grousing that it doesn’t just fall in their laps. McKenna stresses how important good, positive support is for those suffering from PTSD in addition to medical help.

Wonderfully macho and self-contained, Corey is the epitome of military training. He’s always polite to those around him, supportive to the soldiers he’s training, and enjoyable to be around even though he’s battling his demons unsuccessfully. With the love of a good man, he’s not above taking a hard look at himself and making drastic changes. He’s a poster boy for what a Marine should be.

Although he doesn’t know what Corey’s really going through, Sean doesn’t flinch from trying to help and using his music to sooth Corey when he needs it. Sean alludes to his past disastrous relationships and to his family who wants him to quit music and acting and start being a man with a lucrative job. Unfortunately, none of these threads are fleshed out, so Sean is a bit of an enigma, which is too bad.

If nothing else, however, this story lifts the fairytale factor off the usually horrific tale of a returning combat Marine and gives realistic hope for a sunny future if both the soldier and his/her support team work toward that future.

The horizon may not be rosy for every soldier, but McKenna makes it easy to believe that it’s better than the news makes it seem.