Danger Close: The Iraq War in American Fiction


Ryan Bubalo in the LA Review of Books:

SOLDIER TALES produce their own tropes and metaphors, the unique hells of each war. World War I led us into the trenches. World War II carried us along for D-Day and dogfights. Vietnam was choppers, paddy field recons, and the smell of napalm in the morning. And now, while most of the country tries to forget the Iraq War ever happened, American Iraq fiction slams the doors on its underprotected Humvees and compels readers to take a perilous ride.

Fiction is, of course, serving rearguard here; the last decade has seen Iraq War films, poetry collections, documentaries, and non-fiction books too numerous to list, but part of what’s appealing about examining American Iraq War fiction now is that there isn’t that much yet. A common perspective unites this early wave of American Iraq War storytellers.“The war tried to kill us in the spring,” Kevin Powers writes in the elegant, elegiac opening of The Yellow Birds. Powers’ “us” could just as well include Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn, David Abrams’ Gooding and Shrinkle, Lea Carpenter’s SEAL operators, and most of the protagonists in Fire and Forget, a collection of “short stories from the long war.” That “us” is the wife of Siobhan Fallon’s Meg in You Know When the Men Are Gone and the son of Lea Carpenter’s Sara. Because the texts that comprise the current corps of American fictions about Iraq are not just war stories, they are soldier tales.

David Simon’s Generation Kill and other early American works explored the halcyon invasion days of the war when the enemy and objectives were clear: topple Saddam, free Iraq. American fiction, though, focuses primarily on the occupation, and for American soldiers in occupied Iraq, there was driving and there were IEDs.

More here.