Saturday, January 12, 2013

Fobbit by David Abrams

Do you watch Jon Stewart to understand the “why” of current events?  Was “Good Morning, Viet Nam” one of your favorite movies?  Did you love Catch 22 (the book or the movie)?  If so, then Fobbit, David Abrams’ razor-sharp comedy novel of the war in Iraq, is the book for you.  Abrams retired in 2008 after serving twenty years in the Army as a journalist.  He was named the Department of Defense’s Military Journalist of the Year in 1994.  In 2005, he joined the 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad.  The journal he kept during his year in Iraq formed what he calls “the blueprint” for the novel that became Fobbit. Abrams’ experience makes the novel exude the truth of life on a base in Baghdad. That truth is evident from Abram’s first paragraphs:
They were Fobbits because, at the core, they were nothing but marshmallow.  Crack open their chests and in the space where their hearts should be beating with a warrior’s courage and selfless regard, you’d find a pale, gooey center.  They cowered like rabbits in their cubicles, busied themselves with PowerPoint briefings to avoid the hazard of Baghdad’s bombs, and steadfastly clung white-knuckled to their desks at Forward Operating Base Triumph.  If the FOB was a mother’s skirt, then these soldiers were pressed hard against the pleats, too scared to venture beyond her grasp.
Like the shy, hairy-footed hobbits of Tolkien’s world, they were reluctant to go beyond their shire, bristling with rolls of concertina wire at the borders of the FOB.  After all there were goblins in turbans out there! Or so they convinced themselves.
Supply clerks, motor pool mechanics, cooks, mail sorters, lawyers, trombone players, logisticians: Fobbits, one and all.  They didn’t give a shit about appearances. They were all about making it out of Iraq in one piece.
The novel’s main character, Staff Sgt. Chance Gooding is a true, stay-back, stay-safe Fobbit who reads Cervantes and Dickens while penning reports designed to make the deaths around him look sensible to readers back home.  He works in one of Saddam’s former palaces, sleeps in air-conditioned comfort and gets his choice of great food shipped in to keep his ilk happy. He follows orders and files news releases that make the war seem winnable.  His diary tells the true story and may be keeping him sane with entries like: What was life like in Baghdad? “A car bomb every day. Sometimes three on religious holidays.”

Gooding’s fellow soldiers include Lt. Col. Eustace Harkleroad, a spontaneous nose bleeder, “a thick man, thick the way a bowl of risen dough is said to be thick.  When he leaned back in his chair, other soldiers flinched, afraid a button would pop off, come flying across the room, and put out an eye.”  Capt. Abe Shrinkle, a complete failure who fires first, thinks later and whose name could become synonymous with military ineptitude, provides comic relief while showing the most absurd details of the war.  Lt. Col. Vic Duret, whose brother-in-law died in the World Trade Center, offers a more nuanced view of the kind of men serving with honor.
Fobbit was published as an original paperback making it accessible to a wide audience. It’s a debut novel and the book Abrams seems born to write. It’s a hilarious, yet searing picture of an upside-down world where winning “hearts and minds” while killing and fearing Iraqi terrorists (or are they insurgents) is a contradictory goal that eats at the guts of those sitting safely inside a fortress.
If you possess a brain and a heart, you’ll laugh out loud, shed some tears and find a quiet place to contemplate the lessons of this astute novel. Book Clubs – this may be the best choice you’ve ever made.  Caveat: it might be too sardonic for avid Bush-Cheney supporters.
Summing it Up: Read this to bear witness to the absurdity of war. Relish it for the word pictures that will put you “up close and personal” in Baghdad.  Ponder it to make sense of the increasingly strange world we inhabit. That David Abrams could have served and survived in this environment then could speak to it with humor and dispassion is a great gift to readers. Make sure you open that gift.
Rating: 5 stars   

Category: Fiction, Gourmet, Super Nutrition, Sushi, Book Club

Publication date: September 4, 2012 (original paperback)

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