The Strong Man
The Strong Man is a novel of absurd inaction, where dealing in black market bacon takes on as much significance as an aerial bombardment. — The Oregonian
The Strong Man, a new novel by Matt Briggs, was one I started under the worst possible conditions. Not only do I know the author’s name, I heard a full synopsis of the plot at his book release. But I started reading anyway. Probably because the novel addresses one of my favorite topics: moral complicity. Now it has me by the eyeballs. — Summer Robinson, Pilot Books Blog, 12/5/2010
Briggs has a keen eye for detail, whether it’s a line of Douglas firs at Fort Lewis or the anachronistic scent of beer being brewed in a Saudi Arabian hospital. He isn’t afraid to write moral ambiguity. Wallace is neither hero nor villain — more than anything, he’s malleable and not too bright. As such, Briggs has created a character that reflects our uncertain, narcissistic, post-Cold War age. — Katie Schneider, The Oregonian, 12/4/2010
Briggs is brilliant in his moments that address the removal of the human element from modern warfare, the commonplace absurdities of set-piece battles. — Charles Dodd White, 12/29/2010
The Strong Man is one hell of a book. Matt Briggs writes about both going to war, and coming home, and the ways in which, for some of us, war and home seem oddly merged these days, the way we make war now. This story is populated with characters who matter and whose lives will touch you. A fine piece of work from a very talented writer.
— Robert Bausch, author of Out of Season and The Gypsy Man
Matt Briggs shows us the realities of the “new war” that started with the Gulf War. In clear, strong prose he takes us deep into the truth of that forgotten, almost invisible, but tragic war.
— Tom Paine, author of The Pearl of Kuwait and Scar Vegas
What does Ben Wallace do when uncontrollable events happen to him? He gets stronger. Ben’s girlfriend is pregnant and he is called up from the reserves to go to war in this vivid, compelling, and enlightening second novel from Matt Briggs. Ben desperately wants to fight in a war “to experience something that would transform me into something else.” He is exploited by Sergeant Mice (in a relationship similar to Lennie and George from Of Mice and Men) because of his physical strength. Ben lives his life according to ideas or myths, which include war, family, the desert, and what it means to be a man in America. The Strong Man wants to show us what’s behind these myths, “Like most things, when I thought too much about them, I didn’t know what they were: mango juice that was mostly apple juice, leather that was mostly plastic, and cheese that was mostly wax.” — Laurie Blauner, author of All This Could Be Yours and Infinite Kindness
About The Strong Man
An Army Reservist, Ben Wallace, is a reluctant member of the U.S. Army Reserve. Yet, when he is called to duty in Operation Desert Shield, he realizes he wants to experience what his grandfather calls, “The Enlightenment of War.” He initially joined the Army as a form of rebellion against his father—a Vietnam era draft dodger—and as a way to be closer to his is grandfather. His grandfather is a veteran of Guam. Wallace needs to experience combat, he thinks, to make himself a man.
Several things make this unlikely. Wallace is, first of all, a Laboratory Technician in a General Hospital. Second of all, every aspect of modern warfare isolates the soldiers from the discomforts and realities of the conflict. They have comfortable uniforms made from hi-tech microfibers, access to phones to call home at any time, rations designed by master chefs.
Wallace also becomes entangled in the schemes of a profiteering sergeant, Philip Mice. Mice needs Wallace, for his physical strength, to defeat a rival sergeant and to manage the enlisted men while Mice establishes a business trading in contraband. When the hospital arrives in Saudi Arabia, Mice sets up a thriving trade in homebrewed beer, used furniture, and bacon. The trade deals in comfort items designed to alleviate what little discomfort that remains among the soldiers. When Wallace and Mice and finally dispose of the rival sergeant, Wallace realizes Mice will never arrange for Wallace’s transfer to a field hospital near the front lines as long as he remains useful to him. When Wallace threatens to turn himself over to the MPs, Mice quickly transfers Wallace to a field hospital. Following the First Infantry’s advance on Basra, Wallace encounters his first surrendered Iraqis. The persistent unreality of the American Army’s war begins to slip away. When he faces the remains of retreating Iraqi soldiers destroyed on the highway to Basra, he finally experiences “The Enlightenment of War,” even though at this point he would rather remain unenlightened.