Almost 20 years ago, long before he published any novels or won the Stranger Genius Award for Literature
, Matt Briggs fought in the first Gulf War. "Fought" is probably too strong a word—Wikipedia notes, in curt, Briggsian language, "After high school, Briggs joined the U.S. Army Reserves and his unit was deployed to the Gulf War. Briggs served as a laboratory technician in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia"—but the experience must have left some kind of an impression on him. His new novel, The Strong Man
, is about a young man named Ben Wallace who is called up from the Army Reserves to go fight in the first Gulf War. Fight, of course, is too strong a word—instead, Wallace battles boredom, gets involved in a shady smuggling ring, and repeatedly tries to call his pregnant girlfriend only to be rebuffed again and again by the young woman's mother.
Wallace, a weight lifter, is the kind of passive protagonist who would bore an audience in the hands of a less-assured writer. The series of anecdotes that make up the bulk of The Strong Man don't so much happen because of Wallace as happen to him; in fact, the only real surprises come in his occasional bizarre bursts of bad temper and the rare slap of a gorgeous turn of phrase, as when he reflects on how weight rooms "smelled of rubber mats and the ferric tang of plates."
Fittingly for a story about Operations Desert Shield and Storm, it's a comic war novel without the war, Waiting for Godot—style...
(Read the rest and find information about Briggs's reading in the books section.)