By David Abrams
It's always a little off-putting to hear a new book—especially a first novel—lauded as "an instant classic" and compared to some old favorite. Reviewers have been fulsome in their praise of Fobbit, David Abrams's dark comedy about the Iraq War, invariably likening it to M.A.S.H., Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse-Five. So, I picked it up fully expecting to be quickly disappointed. But the first paragraph grabbed me so firmly that I hardly put the book down until I reached the end.
"Fobbit" is a put-down, military slang for someone stationed in the relative comfort and safety of a Forward Operating Base during the "Global War on Terror." Fobbits are not "door-kickers" or "trigger-pullers"; they are the "supply clerks, motor pool mechanics, cooks, mail sorters, lawyers, trombone players, logisticians" who work and sleep in air-conditioned comfort. "They were," the narrator sneers, "all about making it out of Iraq in one piece."
Abrams himself was a Fobbit, having done a yearlong tour in Iraq as a Public Affairs Officer. The book clearly springs from his experience and some passages seem to have been lifted straight from the author's diary. Fobbit is set in 2005, when "Mission Accomplished" was giving way to a merciless insurgency and the American casualty count was climbing daily toward 2000. The war that was supposed to be a cakewalk was turning into a meatgrinder.
Abrams name-checks Catch-22 in Fobbit, and the influence of Joseph Heller's sardonic masterpiece is unmistakable. The character names in particular are pure Catch-22: Specialist Blodgett, Sergeant Gooding, Captain Shrinkle, Colonel Harkleroad and so on. The Iraq War is just as absurd and the bureaucracy that feeds it just as
impenetrable for Abrams as the Second World War was for Heller.
Fobbit is sure to join Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse-Five on required reading lists some day. But do yourself a favor and read it now.
Review by Don Beistle
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