Saturday, November 03, 2012

A Modern Day "Catch-22" for the War in Iraq: Review of "Fobbit" by David Abrams

Every major war produces one or two writers who have the genius to turn deadly serious subject matter into an opportunity to shine the purifying light of comic relief into dark corners of our collective psyche.  Joining Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five" and Heller's "Catch-22," we now have David Abrams' "Fobbit."  The author served as a "Fobbit" during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Fobbitt - Definition: A U.S. Army employee stationed at a Forward Operating Base who avoids combat by remaining at the base, esp. during Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-2011).  Pejorative.  

As a soldier in a Public Affairs team in Iraq in 2005, the author kept detailed notebooks of his observations and comments about what he was seeing at the FOB.  Those notebooks found their way into a Blog, and now into this fictionalized account of life inside the wire in Baghdad.  Abrams brings a literary and cultural sensibility to his writing that enlivens the narrative, with frequent allusions to classical music and literature that seem deliciously and ironically incongruous amidst the sandstorms of the Saddam's former kingdom.

The writing has an acerbic wit that made it difficult for me to put the book down.  I raced through its 350+ pages in a couple of days.  Like Dickens, whom the author clearly admires (there are several mentions of "Hard Times" within the text), the author takes great delight in inventing names for his characters that describe them and lampoon them.

"Quinner was a man who talked tough to his staff but, Duret suspected, deep down inside he was irresolute as a choice given two choices for dinner: pepperoni pizza or chicken nuggets with barbecque dipping sauce.  When faced with a fork in the road, Quinner probably wrestled with himself for hours on end, wondering if he should take the high road, the road less traveled, or if he should just stop by the woods on a snowy evening.  This didn't mean Quinner was necessarily a cautious, prudent man; no, just a dumb one who couldn't tell a fart from a turd.

Was he a quitter?  No.  Was he a winner?  No.  He was Quinner!" (Page 102)

Abrams lays out clearly his vision for this book, as he presents a snippet of conversation between ill-fated Captain Abe Shrinkle and an Aussie soldier at poolside inside a distant corner of FOB Triumph:

"The soldier put down his book.  'Is this a joke?'

Abe pointed at the book. 'No, but that is.'

'What's wrong with Catch-22?' Abe's poolside companion said.  'It's a classic.'

'Yeah, classic antiwar rhetoric.'  Abe had never read the novel, but he remembered how, during office hours, one of his West Point professors had gone on a vein-throbbing rant against 'that ass-clown Yossarian,' who spent the entire book trying to weasel his way out of his patriotic duty.  One the basis of that alone, Cadet Shrinkle vowed he would never touch Catch-22.

'Why in the world,' he asked the other soldier, 'would you want to read a book like that at a time like this?'

The soldier grinned.  'I can't think of a better time to read it, can you?  It's helped me get my perspective skewed in the right direction.  Sort of like an owner's manual for this war.'" (Page 194)

We should be grateful that this former Fobbit has crawled out of his lair in the Shire and joined the front lines of those waging literary battle against the inanities of warfare.

Enjoy - and think.


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