“A river bends because it has no choice. This is how it is for brothers at war.” –excerpt, J.A. Tyler’s Variations of a Brother War

Variations of a Brother War is a multifaceted tale about the irreparable damage battlefield atrocities have on two brothers who return to the home front only to find themselves warring over the same woman. Similar to the conflict outlined in Jim Harrison’s Legends of the Fall, J.A. Tyler has engineered a stunning formula for conflict, presenting the tragic breakdown of familial and romantic relationships amidst the raw chaos of war.

In Variations of a Brother War, Tyler wastes no time with fruitless character backgrounds. He plunges forth into the gritty detail of a love triangle involving two war-ravaged brothers, Miller and Gideon, and a scatter-brained girl named Eliza. The truth is obvious from the start: Eliza can only love one brother (at a time at least), and she finds herself helpless against her conflicting desires, opting to spend much of her time wandering the countryside thinking about how she loves Gideon because of characteristics which are polar opposite to Miller, but admits to loving Miller because of his characteristics which are wildly different from Gideon: “If Eliza were to open her pocket, with Miller inside it, the words of I am in love with you would echo out and she would instantly and without hesitation, bend. But with her ear towards the earth, listening to Miller, she would remember Gideon only a valley away too, and that when she sees him worrying over stones in oceans she is in love with his muscled back and his hair always disheveled.”

Lack of decisiveness on Eliza’s part binds her and the two brothers together with the same strangulating rope. The three battle against one another without room for peaceful absolution, and in the end, no one gets what they want, a fact neither brother nor Eliza has the competence or lack of ego to accept.

Tyler has a fantastically tragic story on his hands not only because of his ability to maintain conflict throughout each passage but also because of his impeccable attention to detail. His ability to wordsmith is incomparable, not only in form and function but in style and flow. He harbors an elaborate writing style all his own, and leaves his essence in every line. Take his description of Gideon, the wild-hearted brother fueled by impulse and egocentricity: “Gideon’s mother raised Gideon as a wolf. She brayed at his moon and led him in darkness to the river, to dip his paws in the water and to see the reflection of his glaring eye teeth looking back at a handsome face. Or as the younger of two boys, he was so loved for being the last that she handed him everything he wanted and Gideon grew used to taking anything he desired.”

Tyler also presents his story with innovative formatting. Each metaphor-laden stanza hosts a theme such as “Cabins” ; “Mothers” ; “Men,” and ties each paragraph to the theme with labels as well. In the case of the latter stanza, each successive paragraph is titled: “Miller Was a Man Above”; “Gideon Was a Man Below” ; “Eliza Was a Girl Between Two Men.” For example, in the stanza titled “Ammo” and the paragraph titled “The Bullets are Ripe With Disease,” the passage reads: “If Gideon is a dove then Miller is a dove. If Miller is a dove then Eliza is a tree. If Eliza is a tree then Gideon will become the axe that knocks her branches, cradles what is not then a fall. If Gideon catches Eliza then Miller will retreat into a crow, barrel up in his rifle and taste meadow as he walks away…”

From start to finish, I could tell the author and publisher put lot of passion and tender loving care into this compilation. The advanced writing style, formatting, and subtle foreshadowing woven into a scattered timeline made this novella a challenging and fascinating read.

J.A. Tyler and Smalldoggies Press hit the mark with their release of Variations of a Brother War, an epic novella which uncovers the overarching effects of war on the human condition, and what it’s like to be thrust into a literal and figurative no man’s land, battling for freedom and love, and finding occasional reprieve in the beauty and grace of nature.

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LAVINIA LUDLOW is a musician from Northern California. In 2011, Casperian Books released her debut novel alt.punk, and recently signed her sophomore novel, Single Stroke Seven. Her writing has appeared in Pear Noir!, Curbside Splendor, Dogzplot, and Gloom Cupboard, and she is an occasional reviewer at Small Press Reviews and Smalldoggies Magazine.

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