Though I keep saying I'm done with the European theater of World War II—and I do a fair job keeping my distance—I am clearly not entirely done. A favorite author writes a phenomenal book about the subject. A story about something unrelated suddenly “goes there.” It's unavoidable. Mix my desire to revisit the work of Richard Bausch and the promise of a quick read and, well, here we go again.
Peace is one of those books with a small cast of characters and an even smaller plot. Undoubtedly, some readers will dislike this story for the simple fact that “not much happens.” At 171 7”x5” pages, Peace is barely a novel, so expectations for “a lot to happen” should be relatively small.
Set in Italy in the winter of 1944, the story is largely about a group of American soldiers hiking a mountain. What makes this story spectacular is the psychology at play and the nuances of the writing. Bausch wonderfully casts a believable set of characters and right away gives each a personal demon or a quirk that plays well off of everyone else. The result is a tale where simply walking around a mountain becomes tense. Toss in the subtle haunt of the shadows across the white landscape, the dance of snowflakes in the air, the frozen remains of an abandoned soldier, and you have an intensely powerful little novel.
Despite long careers with considerable works behind them, brothers Bausch (twins Richard and Robert) remain virtually unknown to the general public. I've heard them described as “writer's writers,” and I do feel there is some truth to that. I doubt I ever would've heard of either had it not been for the recommendation of a professor and fellow writer while enrolled in an MFA program. If you're a writer and haven't yet been introduced to the Bauschs, may I introduce you. Neither is likely to become your favorite author, but you are probably going to learn a thing or two about the craft. If you're not a writer, might I suggest a Bausch short story? I think you may like the style, but starting with a relationship that requires little commitment guarantees a more amicable split if that time comes. I think you'll hit it off, though. Might I also suggest you give Peace a chance? It's short, beautiful, and haunting, and it seems to me to be a truer account of the war than most of the WWII fiction published these days.