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.