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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."

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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.)

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