I recently read an early galley copy of David Abrams' "Fobbit," a bitterly cynical, and bitterly funny fictional take of Iraq, circa the 2005 era when things really began to fall apart.
I'm not sure how close this galley version will be to the final publication, but with a September publication date, it should be pretty close. Some of this review is taken from my previous thoughts about "Fobbit," when I'd read a first few excerpts.
Abrams is a retired "46Q" Army journalist, my same job when I was active duty many years ago. Since Army journalists often were command's mouthpieces, we were usually treated a little better, with - not more respect - but a slight deference, since it was up to us to get the 'good news' out. They had to butter us up a little, just to make sure we all stayed on the same team. And, the job also meant we saw everything at a higher level than most of the soldiers. Sometimes that's good, but often it can be frustrating. That perspective has successfully found its way into the pages of "Fobbit."
There are two nonfiction accounts by Army journalists - which I won't mention, because I didn't like them. They failed, I think, because the honesty was compromised by wishing their story was something it could never be - sorry guys, you weren't Audie Murphy.
Iraq, especially from the military Public Affairs perspective, begs for the "Catch-22" approach, so the true absurdity of so much of it can come through loud and clear, without the justifications, self-editing, wishful thinking and rose-colored memories that most wartime nonfiction memoirs often fall victim.
"Fobbit" tackles many of the Iraq War's absurd contradictions. While Vietnam had Saigon, and I suppose WWII had England, I'm not sure any previous US conflicts ever had something as absurd as the "FOBs" - the cities-within-cities populated by the headquarters elements.That's not to say those soldiers (and many highly-paid US civilians, and very low-paid third-country nationals) didn't have important jobs to do. But there's no question that a year's deployment at a base where you could play basketball tournaments, watch big-screen movies and eat pecan pie every night would seem an odd switch from the violence and death happening right outside the well-protected gates.
"Fobbit" follows a half-dozen characters that represent a solid cross-section of Army soldiers, including a battalion commander, company commander, squad leader, public affairs officer, and public affairs NCO. Each meet different fates, both figurative and literal.
Abrams uses multiple points-of-view, and it's impressive how the 'voice' of each character feels unique and individual. He perfectly captures a wartime soldier's enthusiastic cynicism and gleeful bitterness.
The story, I think, is less important than these characters. There's a plot, but from my perspective, the most interesting aspect is this unrelenting grind that Abrams' characters experience. As I read, I didn't care what they were doing, as much as what they were thinking, fictionally, on the page. A reader should get at least a small appreciation for how unrewarding and depressing an Iraq deployment could be, when nothing seemed to matter, and it all just seemed a way to kill the time until another a day came and went.
Because the characters are SO important, and SO vital, it makes the last 50 or so pages the weakest part. The story wraps up in a way that puts plot to the forefront, and I cared a lot more about the characters then the plot. Plus, there's a couple parts that strain believability a little bit, and since the first 300 pages were completely spot-on accurate, it was a bit jarring.
Bottom line, this is the kind of story that didn't need to be "concluded" with any sort of conventional ending. The situation alone gave it plenty of emotional weight, and after that, it was Abrams hysterical character development that carried the narrative along. If you're like me, you will really like the vast majority of the book, and some flaws at the end will not take away from the very positive overall impression.
Hopefully, there will be a group of readers who are offended, and who complain about Abrams obvious lack of patriotism, his attack on our beloved soldiers, and his mockery of our national war effort - if that happens, then he has succeeded. A book like this proves its value in the irrational criticism that it generates. Anyone who gets angry and says Abrams got it wrong either wasn't there, didn't serve, doesn't know - or maybe Abrams' characters hit way too close to home.
Like the line from Mel Brooks' "The Producers" goes, "It was shocking, outrageous, insulting...and I loved every minute of it!"
At $8 on Amazon (as of March 21), it's a bargain for the hours/days of entertainment - and cynical nostalgia - it will provide.