Chance Gooding, who is "in the war but not of the war," makes for an eminently likable guide as we try to get our bearings in the chaos of wartime Iraq. But it's the far less likable Abe Shrinkle and Stacie Harkleroad who really steal the show, constantly toeing the line between caricature and character in a most delicious way. And as the American occupation hurtles toward its all-important (for spin reasons, of course) 2000th casualty, the action takes on a hallucinatory momentum.
Added bonus is you'll be boning up on your history and current events, laughing all the while. And get a load of those names. Have you ever seen better outside of Dickens? Us either.
This is a war novel with none of the traditional trappings of the genre that often bog it down. We are given no dates, no locations, not told who won or lost any given skirmish, and, in fact, have no sense of the larger war at all. Instead, what we are given is a psychological portrait of fear — and resentment and fury and bravery and solipsistic cowardice — so searing and modern and pulsing with blood and neurons and realness, that you won't believe it hasn't been optioned by HBO yet. (Maybe it has been?)