Sunday, June 26, 2011

Peace by Richard Bausch

Three GI’s wonder if war is worth it

This short novel about World War II sucked me in immediately.  There are some great scenes, really great, (I cried when the solider left home), interspersed with long passages of boredom.  Why?  The nominal plot is three GI’s climbing a snowy mountain, pursued by a faceless sniper.  The prose style is kind of Old Man and the Seaish (which works).  The secondary plot, the moral plot, is the three GI’s discussing whether they should turn in their commanding officer for a war crime, which had been depicted in the first scene.  Part of my problem was that I didn’t understand that the first scene depicted a war crime until we were well into the book.  To me it seemed like another unavoidable bad thing happening during a war.  And if I, a Hollywood Hills liberal Democrat, didn’t think the first scene depicted a war crime, I have a hard time believing the three young kids in wartime getting shot at would make that distinction.  A panicky action in the heat of battle is not a war crime.   So the stakes weren’t there for me.   Surely these guys would be more concerned about the sniper killing them than debating moral permutations.   Partly the cause of my boredom were that the characters of the three GI's and their elderly Italian guide felt straight out of central casting.  The bigoted hick, the Jewish guy from Brooklyn, the noble American, the shifty old Italian.  The narrative consciousness is that of the noble American, the good Catholic.  But here we have the problem of the essentially uninteresting nature of inherent goodness, rather than the tension of striving for goodness.  So the stakes weren't there.  The final scene stretches credulity and ends in a welter of sonorous though ultimately meaningless words

This would have made a pretty powerful short story.  Instead it turned into a short novel, flabbed up with rhetoric.

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