'Fobbit," a term that refers to a noncombat inhabitant of Forward Operating Bases in Iraq, is among the war's more hilarious linguistic turns. It might have remained an inside joke, but now comes David Abrams' novel, "Fobbit," which gives such full-blooded life to the soldiers whose "pale, gooey center" is so antithetical to battlefield heroism that he propels the word into the everyday by the force of his narrative.

Chance Gooding, a public affairs specialist charged with "developing a culture of upticking positives" through his dispatches, is the inhabitant observer of the Iraq war's absurdities, and his job is turning acronym-laden horrors into can-do briefs as a means of crowding out the mundanity of death.

Around him jostle a cast of soldiers mired in various forms of disillusion born of this tedious mayhem, most spectacular of whom is the centerpiece character, Capt. Abe Shrinkle. Shrinkle is a West Point product who earns his despair through hard-working incompetence and whose final judgment is as pronounced as it is comical.

As mission builds upon mission, lie upon lie, "Fobbit" builds to its exclamation by terror and by tedium and by laughter -- like war itself. When the public cataloging of death numbs to a chore and corpses become "objects to be loaded onto the back of C-130s somewhere and delivered like pizzas to the United States," Abrams' characters do not even attempt to ask "Why?" but instead succumb to the call to run. "Fobbit" makes a sordid music of their screams -- and makes its mark on Iraq war literature.