“The recollection of emotion in tranquillity is harder than it looks, especially if the emotions aren’t and aren’t meant to be tranquil. The distance needed for literature vitiates the emotions unless the writer is very skilled. Dave Abrams is very, very skilled.
I’ve known Dave – in the sense in which one knows people who write for the same website – for a fair few years now. I remember when he shipped out, and when he came back; and knowing his talent, I expected great things.
I didn’t expect Fobbit.
Most of the praise for Fobbit has, alas, been filtered through a partisan lens, and a damned cloudy one at that. Well, the hell with that. This is simply a brilliant work, wherever you stand. Dave Abrams has written a very American book about a very American situation, which here happens to be war – or its adjuncts. Well, Dave’s a very American writer. Insofar as all American writers are to some extent regional writers – whatever befalls, Cornelia Read is always an Oyster Bay patrician; I can’t stop being a Southerner, and a Texan to boot – Dave is a Westerner. He has Twain in his veins: the Twain of Roughing It, and indeed of Life on the Mississippi.
But this book transcends incident and the accidents of time and place and nationality, even as war service does in its essentials. There are pages over which the spirits of Kipling’s Soldiers Three – Mulvaney, Ortheris, and Learoyd – and of Uncle Toby Shandy and Corporal Trim, seem to hover. And Sam Watkins of Company Aytch, like that young subaltern of 1914, Robert Graves, might marvel at the changes in technology, but he’d be familiar with the military universal, line, support, and service alike, of tedium briefly interrupted by panic, and the nagging knowledge, which Kipling also captured, that no one at home knows split beans from coffee about what’s actually going on, and are content to support or oppose it without learning word one about it.
Most of all, though, this is a fictionalized – lightly fictionalized – war service memoir of which the most improbable incidents (to the civilian mind) are, I’d bet, the least fictionalized. And if that sounds familiar, it should: Fobbit is, simply, the equally brilliant American nephew of George MacDonald Fraser’s brilliant McAuslan stories and, still more, his otherwise incomparable Quartered Safe Out Here. Go forth and read it, and see.”