A fobbit, according to the cover of David Abrams's novel of that name, is "a U.S. Army employee stationed at a Forward Operating Base, esp. during Operation Iraqi Freedom." The environs of FOB Triumph in Baghdad are chaotic, but among the Fobbits, men and women talk about where to find the best DVDs, look forward to the seafood feast on Friday night, play games, get it on in Porta Pottys and try not to think about the war going on outside. Based on Abrams's own experiences in Iraq, Fobbit is none-too-gentle satire, often bitter and filled with contempt for posturing officers as it showcases the divide between them and enlisted men, or between those fighting the war and those reporting it, played out against a background of fear, mistrust and competing agendas.
The heart of the book is Staff Sgt. Chance Gooding Jr., a public relations NCO who spends his days writing those aforementioned press releases, which, even as he puts the "right spin" on the bombing and street fighting, will be edited, re-edited and eviscerated until they bear no relationship to the events that made them necessary--as CNN embeds who know what really happened look over his shoulder, which will lead to yet another PR disaster.
Then there's Captain Abe Shrinkle, a company commander with incredibly bad judgment, a hoarder with a trailer full of food and gifts from the folks back home. (He meets a fitting, albeit messy, end.) Mama's boy Eustace Harkleroad is a self-aggrandizing twit who writes home of his exploits--largely fabricated--and encourages Mama to leak them to the local papers. In reality, Harkleroad is a buffoon incapable of making a decision. Such is mid-level leadership at FOB Triumph.
In a particularly cynical passage, Abrams describes the media waiting for the body count to reach 2,000. Says Chance in his diary: "2,000 is a number most Americans can hold in their minds and use it to remember the awful waste of this war, this overlong field trip to the desert where we got ourselves tangled in a briar patch and stuck to the tar baby of terrorism." As the war in Iraq passes from news into history, all the dirty little secrets come out, told by those who were there. Abrams's tale is powerful stuff. --Valerie Ryan
Shelf Talker: Abrams, who served on a public affairs team in Iraq in 2005, delivers a behind-the-scenes portrait of war in the spirit of Catch-22 or M*A*S*H.