Richard Bausch's short volume, Peace has nothing to do with peace. Instead, it recounts a tragic tale of a small group of American soldiers struggling to stay alive as they fought their way to the top of Monte Cassino in Italy during World War II.
There is a passage in Peace that describes an experience I seem to be having more often lately. A soldier thinks back on the life he had lived in America:
"His life there now seemed a hundred years ago. Or it was worse than that: sometimes, now in the nights, it felt like something he must have imagined. It no longer carried with it the weight of memory but was marbled with the insubstantial feeling of imagination when the faculty for imagining is sketchy or false. He could not really believe it happened, any of it."
How often have you felt that way? In an essay I recently wrote about my experience teaching, I describe a similar feeling:
"But my days in the classroom and the laboratory seem so very long ago, like something that happened to another person, in another time or world. Maybe I have dreamed it all. I do recall it, of course, but I must confess it is hard to believe any of that ever happened to me. I have that feeling now for many of the things I did when I was a younger person."
Peace is beautifully written. As I was reading it, I made note of a few passages including:
They had lived with confusion for so long. Nobody said anything about it.
That man had been in the other war, the first one, fighting on the other side. Asch talked about going from the Ardennes Forest, shooting at French and English and American soldiers, to a living room in Brockton—with a grandson about to join the army to go fight the Hun. It was ridiculous.
In the lucid water of the sea, in the brightness and calm of the beach, it was difficult to believe in the war.
He kept this all inside and never showed any of it to anyone.
He had again the obliterating sense that everything of his memory, everything of his knowledge and his dreams and the hopes and aspirations of his lived life, was in a kind of gray, lifeless suspension. Even the wish to be generous and to seek the good opinion of others. It was all elsewhere.
Crouched close to the fire, in the woods beyond the snowfield, Corporal Marson thought of the futility of money, and then he was thinking of the futility of everything.