By David Abrams
In the new novel, "Brave Deeds," six soldiers go AWOL, moving through the streets of Baghdad, without a map, to attend a memorial service for their friend and comrade, Staff Sgt. Ralph Morgan.
Arrow, Park, O, Cheever, Fish and Drew are squad brothers. They are one fight, one brotherhood, just like all of the posters you see in the recruitment offices. Each character fills formulated roles in their crew: Arrow is the leader; Park and Drew are tough, quiet, but level-headed; Fish is the callous narcissist; O is the compassionate friend; and Cheever is the classic dimwit. Still, the characters are made deeply enchanting by the omniscient narrator of the story.
David Abrams writes with a straightforwardness similar to Hemingway. You see the characters and their surroundings without any unnecessary romanticism. Abrams throws you into the environment: hiding in the alleys, weaving between buildings, hearing rifles fire. Tension runs thick through every page as the characters begin to unfold as multidimensional and authentic people: Arrow struggles with his sexuality; Cheever despises his incompetency to a heartbreaking degree; O dreams of his wife; Fish has callously murdered another man before he entered the military. As every character’s backstory is revealed, Abrams brilliantly demonstrates that bravery is not a one-trick pony.
There is fantastic contrasting imagery throughout the novel: Readers sees burnt shells of cars lining the curbs as lingering memories of bombings just days ago, right next to billboards of soccer player’s offering a Coke and a smile; children asking for money to buy beanie babies and candy on the streets; a woman in labor among the death and chaos — all demonstrating how normal the abnormal is in places of war.
With characters who are driven, amusing, distressing and poignant, Abrams shows us brave deeds are not always the images we see on a poster in a recruiting office. Instead it is commonplace bravery — the kind we tend to ignore. As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Everyday courage has few witnesses. But yours is no less noble because no drum beats for you and no crowds shout your name.”