No matter your ideological stance on war, there is no denying that it makes for riveting reading material. Complex characters, charged situations, taught narratives. Humour, philosophical depth, staggering fear and the full gamut of human emotion. These are the reasons I’ve been burrowing into war fiction lately, and fortunately for me (and you) this year has proved fruitful on the war genre front, with these three critically acclaimed novels:
The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers, is a quietly piercing account of the fear many soldiers face in the parenthetical disorientation of war. Shortlisted for both this year’s National Book Award and Guardian First Book Award, Powers’ novel is based on his own experiences as a U.S. Army private in Iraq, and was pronounced “the All Quiet on the Western Front of America’s Arab wars” by Tom Wolfe. Disturbing and beautiful, this one sneaks up on you – though subtle, Powers’ authentic voice is heartbreaking.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain, has also garnered comparisons to groundbreaking war literature – Karl Marlantes (author of Matterhorn, a novel about the Vietnam War) — called it the “Catch-22” of the Iraq War, and it is also a finalist for the National Book Award. The day-in-the-life plot follows Billy Lynn and Bravo Company on a victory tour after the squad’s heroic firefight was caught on film and widly broadcast on the nightly news. Billy and his comrades drunkenly navigate a chaotic Dallas Cowboys game, hit on cheerleaders, and try to remain respectable in front of many rich, high-profile Republican patriots. It’s one of those novels where nothing much happens, but Billy is so irreverent, his inner monologue so poignant and memorable, that you can’t put it down. Highly recommended for those who like a little humour with their pathos.
Fobbit, by David Abrams
Fobbit: fä-bit, noun. Definition: A U.S. soldier stationed at a Forward Operating Base who avoids combat by remaining at the base, esp. during Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-2011). Pejorative.
Also by an Iraq vet, Fobbit satirically chronicles the back-end of the war machine, where soldiers work desk jobs and strategize more about Xbox and NASCAR, and finding empty Porta Potties, than military missions. Described by Kirkus as: “Sardonic and poignant. Funny and bitter. Ribald and profane. Confirmation for the anti-war crowd and bile for Bush supporters.”