Men at War

In the interest of full disclosure, I should preface my remarks by saying that Richard Bausch was one of my teachers, but before he became someone I admired in the classroom, I loved his work. In part, I loved it for its economy and force of emotion and some of best “dialogue in American letters,” as Janet Burroway put it. All these elements are on display in this story, but what also makes this story tick is what’s not said. Bausch often told us in workshop that the moment a writer’s politics entered into a story—the moment we started trying to manage the ideas—was when the story would fall apart. Bausch doesn’t allow his story to delve into the intricacies of World War II, the political machinations and overtones. He avoids delving into them not because they aren’t important. They are. But he trusts the reader to know and understand the facts, and this trust allows us to experience the story, to take the journey with these men on the mountain as their lives hang in the balance. Bausch likes to say he approaches his writing as a storyteller, and with “Italy” he reminds us that the simplest of stories—men at war, afraid for their lives and pushed together by time and circumstance—put into context what was at stake in the larger world. What you see in this war story (and in all good war stories) is the intimacy of these men, the brotherhood formed by combat and service. But all the while the reader’s understanding of history and what was at stake also hangs over the story, and because of this we see what is most essential about this story: that those implications were not in the minds of the men fighting.

—Mike Croley

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