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January 26, 2013


by David Abrams

Caveat lector: this post contains spoilers.

About a month ago I finished David Abrams' Fobbit as part of the Notable challenge. It was a very quick read reminiscent of that greatest of all war novels, Catch-22¹, but somewhat more somber as it conjures up images of American soldiers currently enmeshed in combat operations around the world.

Its interesting contribution to the war novel is that in some ways it crosses it with an episode of The Office; the titular neologism refers to a soldier who spends almost all of his time in the relative safety of the Forward Operating Base, or FOB, and indeed one of Abrams' tragicomic main characters has made of his apartment-like container trailer something of a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort². While there is a bit of time spent in the field, and also on R&R, much of the novel revolves around the FOB itself, and in a way that makes the dark comedy more accessible to a Stateside reader. It's a familiar setting and set of characters inside of an unfamiliar one.

There are images and situations I'll remember from the book, but this one doesn't have quite the staying power of a Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, though it most definitely recalls novels like Catch-22 and A Confederacy of Dunces. I found it a little less easy to connect with owing to the continuing combat around the world. By the time I read it, Catch-22 referred to a war long past and even substantial distance at publication. You can find humor in anything, and there are some deeply comic moments and situations in this one, so on balance I think it was worth reading.

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¹Indeed, it name-checks Catch-22 at one point explicitly, around a pool.

²In one of the novel's better sections, an officer recently busted down to being the towel boy in the FOB's exercise room reflects on the huge amount of care package material he has managed to get shipped to him from the States from well-meaning and patriotic moms, churches, and schoolchildren. The inventory of materials is staggering and amusing, and deeply farcical.

Posted by Brett Douville at January 26, 2013 09:43 AM