Sardonic and poignant. Funny and bitter. Ribald and profane. Confirmation for the anti-war crowd and bile for Bush...

FOBBIT

IEDs, VBIEDs, EODs, G-3 and even CNN contrive a constant Catch-22 as Fobbit Chance Gooding Jr. fights the acronym war in Abrams’ debut novel.

FOB is an acronym, meaning Forward Operating Base. It's 2005 in war-torn Iraq, and a Fobbit is a soldier working within that secured area, never venturing beyond the wire and guard towers to cope with AK-47–toting terrorists and improvised explosive devices. Staff Sgt. Gooding mans a computer in FOB Triumph’s Public Affairs Office. Though he uses no active unit’s designation, the author knows the Army, good and bad. Abrams is a 20-year veteran who served in Iraq as part of a public affairs team. While the narrative generally feeds off Gooding, it is peopled with far more outlandish and intriguing characters. One is Gooding’s immediate superior, Lt. Col. Eustace Harkleroad, timid, overweight, incompetent and subject to stress nosebleeds. Bunkered in a cubicle in one of Saddam’s old palaces, Gooding shoots off cliché-riddled press releases meant to obscure casualty numbers. The doublespeak must earn three chain-of-command initials before they’re ready to be ignored by the media. The tipping point comes when news outlets begin to salivate over killed-in-action numbers reaching 2,000. With notations from Gooding’s diary and woeful, lie-laden emails-to-mother from Harkleroad, the author’s narrative reflects the Fobbit war, the heat and the sand, civilian contractors and guest workers at the FOB’s burger and chicken franchises. Abrams saves his best work for two supporting characters, Lt. Col. Vic Duret, a hard-driving, stressed-out, uber-responsible battalion commander haunted by his brother-in-law’s death in the World Trade Center attack, and the inept and fear-filled Capt. Abe Shrinkle, a West Pointer who bungles his way into shooting an innocent Iraqi civilian on one mission and incinerating another on the next. More a Fobbit’s Jarhead than a Yossarian Catch-22, although one character meets a Kid Sampson-like fate.

Sardonic and poignant. Funny and bitter. Ribald and profane. Confirmation for the anti-war crowd and bile for Bush supporters.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2032-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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