Twitchiest guy in Iraq, with a backpack full of cash
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“I never wanted to leave the FOB. I never wanted to drive the MSRs or roll with 03s. PFC did. But me, when I got 3400 in boot camp I thought, great. I’d work in an office, be a POG. Be the POG of POGs, and then go to college for business. I didn’t need to get some, I needed to get the GI Bill. But training at BSTS they told me, you better learn this, 3400s go outside the wire. A few months later I was strapped up, M4 in condition 1, surrounded by 03s, backpack full of cash, twitchiest guy in Iraq.”
— From “OIF,” by Phil Klay
Editor’s Note — Nathan Englander:
I’ve always had a soft spot for the short-short — that is, the literary short story weighing in at less than 1,000 words.
I don’t bring this up when introducing Phil Klay’s “OIF” so that I can tell you that this is a great story for a short-short (because “OIF” is, straight-up, a great story). I simply want to point out that, as challenging as the short form is, a writer faces a particular set of stumbling blocks when attempting to build a fully realized world in so tight a space.
What makes “OIF” particularly special is that Klay not only succeeds in establishing voice and character, he not only manages to walk us through the narrative with confidence, but — for the majority of the story’s audience, unfamiliar with its lexicon — Klay teaches us a new language that we come to understand as we read. That language is the one spoken by the US Marines fighting in Iraq, which Phil learned during his service there.
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Great authors inspire us. But what about the stories that inspire them? Recommended Reading, a magazine by Electric Literature, publishes one story a week, each chosen by today’s best authors or editors.
— Elissa Goldstein was born and raised in Melbourne. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College and is the Online Editor of Electric Literature. You can find her here.