...original, deftly plotted and incisively intelligent ... Mr. Van Reet occupies these sparring perspectives with impressive balance and dispassion, avoiding the sense of victimhood that often saturates fiction about American soldiers in Iraq. Though the novel offers no pat resolutions, a strange and surprising connection emerges between captive and captors.
The war fiction writer is in a tough place; you have to get your reader to know some military procedures and technology without bogging down the story. Mr. Van Reet, who served as a tank crewman in Iraq, does an incredible job of doing this while keeping the story and characters top priority ... It is amazing how much depth and history is covered within such a dizzy pace. Everyone has a say, including a Somali cabdriver and three Iraqi stray dogs. In a history book, the ideologies would feel static. Mr. Van Reet shows them as they truly exist: ambiguous, in constant flux, tried by events ... Good writers such as Mr. Van Reet, who can bring together all the viewpoints, help us think better about these events, especially as they get solidified in history and overtaken by more recent events, ideologies and actors.
...one of the best opening chapters I’ve read for ages...The strengths of this excellent book are all on show in these tight 15 pages: the vivid observation, the nuance of its characters, the deep familiarity with the processes of waging war ... Van Reet doesn’t flinch from skewering the invasion’s cruelty and ineptitude, but his ambition goes beyond presenting us with only the US experience. The story gives us three perspectives on the unfolding action ... It feels intellectually responsible for Van Reet to push beyond the world he knows to give us a larger perspective on the war, but al-Hool is an empathic stretch for the author and there is more obvious contrivance about this section of the book ... It may not be news that war is hell, but our chronic forgetfulness of the fact makes Spoils feel not only rewarding but necessary.
The sensory depth and description of place is perfect throughout, as Van Reet draws on his experience to paint the sunburned barrens and the hot claustrophobic interiors of trucks, tanks and concrete rooms. The sentences feel weighed with living under these conditions ... This is a raw study in the ruin of men. It’s unapologetic and confessional, showing the flaws in humanity just below the skin ... Van Reet shows that no one wins a war like this, and, at some point, everyone fighting in it knows.
Van Reet’s lean prose accommodates a laconic style suggesting military reports and detail-rich context fed by a keen eye and memory. He embeds the reader with the unwashed troops in a cramped Humvee, in a dark cell where only screams penetrate, and in the mind of a Muslim fighter with two decades of campaigning, a dead son, a lost wife, scant wins, and more doubts than faith can ease. A fine piece of writing that should stand in the front ranks of recent war novels.
Van Reet’s unsettling tale is an authentic portrayal of combat with its chaos, fear, and the finality of death. It is also a sobering commentary on war’s brutality and the burning intensity of Iraq’s jihadist insurgency.