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Ranger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family and an Inexplicable Crime (2017)Description / Buy at Amazon

Ben Blum is an American author of the popular novel “Ranger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family and an Inexplicable Crime”. Ben Blum is a native of Denver Colorado. He went to the University of California Berkeley, from where he got his computer science PhD, got his MFA from New York University in the process getting the New York Times Foundation Fellowship, and becoming a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. He currently lives with his stepdaughter and wife in Brooklyn New York. He writes the novel about his cousin Alex Blum who was waiting for deployment to Iraq before he was inexplicably involved in a bank heist that he blamed on Luke Elliot Sommer his Specialist. In the novel “Ranger Games”, Ben tries to wrap his head around how his cousin that had always been an obedient boy and had always dreamed of joining the Army Rangers could mess up so badly. While Alex whiled his time waiting for trial at the federal detention center, Ben was trying to make sense of it all.

Ben Blum had been a mathematics prodigy that had been studying calculus and physics at the University of Colorado by the time he was thirteen. But over the years, he found the abstractions and algorithms bland and thought he was missing out on the real meaning of life. With his cousin Alex getting into a different kind of trouble, he thought this was the perfect opportunity to wrap his head around a humanistic puzzle of the quirks of the untidy, dark, and twisted human mind. Given his training in the scientific, he sets out to gather clues based on scientific principles. He goes back to his phrenology games that he had always played as a child to gain insights into the personalities of his relatives. He usually got his data by analyzing the gradients and curves of relative’s heads to make his conclusions. He tries to do this with Alex and soon realizes that it will not work and that he may have to take into account the emotional aspects and family dynamics. What he unearths is a tangled web of military training practices akin to brainwashing, a web of lies and disturbing truths about himself and his family. Over the time researching the story, he graduated from science graduate student with very little of journalism experience to become a full-blown journalist that got close to the subject and immersed himself in the story.

The novel was initially to be named “Bad Apples” inspired by the name the military gave to independent bad actors or errant soldiers, as opposed to characterizing issues with behavior as systemic. Blum then thought of using the title “Of Their Own Accord” in reference to how each of the officers that participated in the crime acted. Ultimately they settled on “Ranger Games” in reference to the moral norms, beliefs, and behavior of society that are typically influenced by what may seemingly be unreal situations that turn out to have very high stakes. Most contemporary military training operates on such principles which is what made it so easy for Luke Elliot Sommer the Specialist to have it so easy to convince his juniors to engage in a bank robbery that they all thought was a training stunt. The aspect of family dynamics also informs the telling of the story. The Blum family mythology is centered on Albert Likes Blum the patriarch of the family that fought in Normandy on D-Day. Alex and Ben had always thought of him in terms of family values of self-sufficiency, toughness, questioning of authority and arbitrary rules. Further investigations revealed that his grandfather was involved in some ugly misconduct, which probably explains why the family culture was prone to unhealthy strains of behavior.

The fact that the novel is written by Alex Blum’s cousin makes it a really intriguing proposition. However, while it would be expected that the familial relationship would temper the telling of the story, it does not. While Blum clearly has feelings toward Alex as his cousin, it in no way influences the story given that the cousins did not grow up together and were never close as children. Ben was the geeky mathematical genius while Alex was the popular handsome, beloved son who was loving, kind and almost perfect son to friends and family. But now that Alex is a convicted criminal everything turns upside down and it is up to Ben to find out what went wrong. Through years of interviews and research with family, friends and Alex, Ben talks about their family dynamics. From an Army ranger he learns about the training regimen and tight military code that molds the minds of the young that join the lite unit. Throughout the novel, Blum talks of how much he needs his cousin to be not the criminal that participated in a bank heist, but the good guy that his family had known. But he also needs to get to investigate theories on brainwashing that he believes may have led to the events of the fateful day. Ben Blum is sympathetic to his cousin’s plight even as he is often angry, frustrated, and immensely confused in his quest to be clinical and cold in his research.

“Ranger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family and an Inexplicable Crime” Ben Blum’s debut novel is a morally urgent, heartrending, and intricate novel unlike any other. Alex Blum had been a popular high school student and what would be described as a good kid from a good Colorado family. He lived for the day he would join the Army Rangers and fight terrorists. He finally made it into the Army Rangers but in a bizarre twist he piles into a car with two strangers and a two fellow soldiers and together they rob a bank. His career is now in jeopardy leaving his family wondering just what went wrong. At first, he had strongly asserted that he believed he was involved in a Ranger training program and his attorney insisted the cult like Ranger indoctrination program could support his claim. Ben Blum who has been struggling with issues of his own identity now steps in to help Alex and the family cope.

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