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Bookmarks Issue: 
35-July-Aug-2008
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A-PeaceRichard Bausch, a novelist and one of the preeminent writers of short fiction and novellas in America today, has published nearly 20 books over the past three decades, including Thanksgiving Night, Someone to Watch Over Me: Stories, Rare & Endangered Species, and The Last Good Time.

The Story: "They went on anyway, putting one foot in front of the other," Bausch writes in the opening lines of Peace, "holding their carbine barrels down to keep the water out, trying, in their misery and confusion—and their exhaustion—to remain watchful." In the winter of 1944, near Cassino, Italy—and in the aftermath of a violent confrontation with a German officer and his mistress—three American soldiers are sent on a reconnaissance mission, taking a suspicious old Italian man with them as a guide. What they had supposed was merely a hill to be climbed turns out to be a mountain, and the group’s pursuit of the Germans is made more difficult by a persistent, icy rain and the imminent threat of death.
Knopf. 171 pages. $19.95. ISBN: 0307268330.

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4.5 of 5 Stars
"This riveting new novel by Richard Bausch is a terrible but true reminder in a season of war. … Once you start reading this tale it’s very difficult to put it down." John Freeman

Seattle Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"In this short, perfect novel, Richard Bausch … slips you so smoothly and unnervingly into the world of these young soldiers on patrol that you won’t quite know how you got there. … What makes Peace extraordinary is Bausch’s rendering of the inward dislocations of the men, especially Marson, whose recollection of his ‘real’ life at home grows ever less credible to him." Michael Upchurch

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"This is a morally inquisitive novel that refrains from moralizing in a strict sense: The facts, if you will, speak with greater authority. … The interplay between Bausch’s characters’ thoughts of home and conceptions of who they are, and the potential erasure of it all, constitute the real crossfire in Peace." Art Winslow

Houston Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Some would call [Peace] a novella, but that diminutive doesn’t do the book justice. For with a kind of magical economy, Bausch packs more into 171 pages than some novelists do into three times that number." Charles Matthews

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] short, bleakly brilliant one-act drama depicting the futility and moral complexity of combat. … [Bausch’s] tense, economic prose chimes with the precise, laconic language of soldiers." Ben Macintyre

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"Bausch has an artisan writer’s fine gift for language, and the imagery of Peace is powerful and persistent. But there is not enough space in the book for the characters to fully unpack, and for readers whose idea of a war novel is the 600 dense pages of Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, which invents a language and landscape for the Vietnam War, this book may seem too spare and stinting." David Ignatius

Rocky Mountain News 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Although the days depicted are real and horrifyingly engaging, the tensions in the novel reveal little that’s surprisingly new about the human condition. … While smoothly written and readable, Bausch’s novel doesn’t succeed in breaking new literary ground." Jennie Camp

Critical Summary

Bausch’s talent in the short form comes through in the 24 chapters that comprise Peace, an abbreviated novel ringing with the clarity and honesty of a master’s prose and reminding the reader at every step how much remains to be said—about the war, about violence, about fear, about the human condition. Critics disagree, however, over the success with which Bausch’s condensed effort presents the dilemma of war and its consequences (Peace is less than a third the length of Denis Johnson’s recent, acclaimed Vietnam novel Tree of Smoke, 4 of 5 Stars Selection Nov/Dec 2007, recalling instead Tim O’Brien’s classic short story cycle The Things They Carried). They see Bausch’s novel as either a dramatic, brutal, and beautiful snapshot or an unfinished prologue to a larger work. None, however, deny the power of Bausch’s statement.