Those are the thoughts of Staff Sgt. Chance Gooding Jr., the protagonist of “Fobbit.” Stationed at FOB Triumph, in one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces, Gooding is a writer in the public affairs office of an Army infantry division, responsible for news releases that turn the “sucking chest wounds and the dismemberments into something palatable — ideally, something patriotic.” In Vietnam the Army inflated the enemy body count as proof of progress; in Iraq, Gooding’s commander juggles our own body count to ensure that the 2,000th American casualty is heroic enough to show the fight’s importance.
Fobbits come in many stripes — not just public affairs spinners but “supply clerks, motor pool mechanics, cooks, mail sorters, lawyers, trombone players, logisticians.” The comfort-loving Fobbits are an easy target of ridicule for a combat soldier, but they shouldn’t be the object of the reader’s scorn. After all, they volunteered to wear the uniform. Less than 2 percent of eligible Americans do.
Abrams makes some beginner’s errors: the dialogue is occasionally stilted, and I wish he spent more time with the actual Fobbits instead of the infantryman Capt. Abe Shrinkle, whose incompetence makes Gooding’s job more challenging. At the start of the book, there is a joke about the illicit relationship between a couple of young enlistees, Simon and Allison. It’s funny — but it also gets at the intimacy of war, the primordial connection, the need for human contact in the face of death. “Fobbit” could have done with more of this. But this is a minor complaint, and in fact I applaud David Abrams for sticking to his vision and writing the satire he wanted to write instead of adding to the crowded shelf of war memoirs. In “Fobbit,” he has written a very funny book, as funny, disturbing, heartbreaking and ridiculous as war itself.