Brave Deeds is a riveting, disturbing war novel. Make that — a war-is-hell novel. It's a book that can leave you laughing, gasping and wincing ... Brave Deeds is a spiritual brother to Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain...Both books will force you to think deeply about what war does — to our nation, and to the people we ask to fight.
The soldiers are foulmouthed, sex-obsessed and fiercely loyal for reasons they can’t quite articulate — in other words, packed with young American male authenticity. Abrams’s prose is relaxed and conversational, with a few scattered literary nuggets that add heft, like chunks of beef in a vegetable soup ... In the climactic final scene, though, Abrams attempts to braid thematic strands of death and rebirth and religious communion, never quite attaining the emotional heights to which he aspires. But the central irony — that this funeral is more important to them than any mission their squad has undertaken — remains front and center. In the Iraq War, we veterans eventually realized that they were killing us mostly because we were killing them, and the reverse as well. It’s a cycle cruelly laid bare in Brave Deeds, where Abrams reminds us that death always begets more death.
With compact precision and the amusing patter of a sardonic narrator, Abrams captures the unusual histories of these ordinary men shuffling through Baghdad as they encounter the horrors of war. They may be AWOL on a personal mission outside command protocol, but they are heroes in their own ways and perform small brave deeds in the midst of half-baked chaos ... the story of a modern war filled with savagery, fear, humor and bravery.
It all builds to an emotionally wrenching and tension-filled climax as the squad attempts to crash the funeral in a hijacked civilian van. Filled with vivid characterizations and memorable moments, this novel—as with classic modern war literature from John Hersey’s Into the Valley to David Halberstam’s One Very Hot Day—turns a single military action into a microcosm of an entire war.
Abrams offers an unusual narrative, first person plural, with points of view discernible only by process of elimination, a subtle reframing of the Rashomon effect. Chapters are long and short, one a mere 38 words, another a prose poem that's an homage to legs, the infantryman’s mode of transportation. With multiple narrators, each trooper is seen through a different squad member’s eyes ... A powerful story on its surface, a soldier’s story laced with vulgarities and gallows humor, but also a story holding deeper interpretations of our troubled Middle Eastern misadventures.