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Brave Deeds by David Abrams

Published by Grove Press Black Cat on August 1, 2017

Brave Deeds is a flawed novel, but I liked it more than Fobbit, David Abrams’ previous literary effort. The plot follows six soldiers who steal a truck so they can attend the memorial service of a beloved Sergeant after being told that an unpopular lieutenant and the company commander will attend the service on their behalf so that the rest of the company can pull Quick Reaction Force duty. Thanks to a broken drive shaft and a forgotten radio, the six soldiers find themselves on foot in Baghdad without a map, hoping they can make their way to the Forward Operating Base without getting killed. Good luck with that.

Like all soldiers, the six have definite opinions about the stupidity of their superior officers. It is clear, however that the soldiers are not all that bright themselves. Nor do they distinguish themselves as representatives of the United States. Apart from stealing a Humvee (not smart) and abandoning the Humvee and the equipment it contains to whomever finds it (really not smart), a soldier named Fish clubs a civilian female with his rifle for no reason other than his psychopathic desire to kill and maim. I give Abrams credit for not shying away from the fact that some soldiers do not deserve to be thanked for their service, but I found little reason to care about these guys.

The story of the stroll is frequently interrupted to tell background stories about the individual soldiers or the dead sergeant, or to relate dreams or snippets of seemingly random thought. An unfortunate percentage of the interruptions come across as filler rather than purposeful contributions to the story. Some of the stories humanize the soldiers (one cheated on his wife while she was delivering his baby, one can’t stop thinking about male genitals that are not his own) but for the most part, the characters suffer from a lack of development.

Putting aside the interruptions, the plot is: soldiers who have no way to communicate (having stupidly left their radio in their abandoned Humvee) walk through Baghdad and things happen to them. They come across cellphones on their journey but apparently their training didn’t include how to make a phone call, or perhaps they don’t know the Army’s phone number. The first eventful thing occurs beyond the midway point, when an Iraqi offers to show the soldiers where is cousin is making bombs. After that, the story suffers from fewer interruptions and becomes progressively more interesting, if not particularly deep.

The attitudes reflected in Brave Deeds (“get out of our way or our big American boots will stomp you”) illustrate why the American occupation failed to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis. Again, I commend Abrams for not whitewashing that. The story has merit and the second half has some entertainment value, so I recommend Brave Deeds, but I can’t regard it as a significant contribution to the literature of war.


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