Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fobbit - Darkly Funny War Satire

In the suburbs of Baghdad in 2005, it was hot, it was boring, and it wasn't the safest area for sight-seeing. What was a Public Affairs Officer to do while deployed there? If the PAO in question has a BA in English and an MFA in creative writing, he might just be tempted to write a diary about his experiences and turn that diary into an ironic, darkly comedic satire that he considers "one part dark horror show of the Iraq War and one part zany antics of public affairs soldiers." Enter Fobbit, the first novel by David Abrams, who retired from the Army in 2008 after 20 years of active duty.

"Fobbit," as the cover of the book clarifies, is a pejorative term for those who work in the Forward Operating Base and who avoid combat by virtue of their hobbit-like reluctance to leave their "shire." In other words, they're the people with the (relatively) cushy office jobs. Abrams was, himself, a fobbit and sticks with what he knew -- and skewers it effortlessly. The book focuses on several of the Fobbits, but the central voice belongs to Staff Sergeant Chance Gooding, Jr., a public affairs officer who spends his time at work writing and re-writing (and re-writing) press releases trying to put a positive spin on the latest round of casualties and his free time reading Catch-22 and writing a journal about his experiences in Iraq, (sound familiar?). Other characters include Lieutenant Colonel Eustace Harkleroad, an indecisive, overweight, spontaneous nose-bleeder who frequently writes to his mother imagined tales of his heroism and valor; Lt. Col Vic Duret, who is a good officer and a good man who just wants to escape images of his brother-in-law's death on 9/11 and return home to his wife; and Abe Shrinkle, a platoon Captain whose incompetence and greed do not go unpunished by karma or the US Army.

This book isn't about the total war experience, nor is it meant to be. The soldiers who are in combat roles are drawn only in comparison to those in the FOB, not as strong characters in and of themselves. But, in offering the voices of Gooding, Harkleroad, Duret, and Shrinkle, Abrams has provided a clever voice to the drudgery of war. 

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