by Christian Bauman
This first novel is the story of Jones: a directionless young man, a husband and father, who joins the Army during the Gulf War, and winds up serving in Somalia. Something happened there, something Jones doesn’t know how to handle. In a larger way, it is a book about young people not knowing how to put the pieces together: finding the right job, making a relationship work, finding meaning in life — all these things seem out of reach for Jones and his buddy Trevor Alphabet.
The novel covers a fair amount of what Army life is like for the fresh recruits; the trials, victories, and humiliations of basic training, the building of honor and character, the wondering when was the time to get scared. It is organized into choppy, short sections that move back and forth in time and space. This isn’t as disorienting as it may sound, but isn’t as skilled as could be hoped for, either.
Actually, that really sums up the book: Bauman isn’t as skilled a storyteller as you could hope for. He isn’t bad by any means, and most of the book is interesting enough; it just isn’t truly compelling, isn’t riveting in the way I want a war story (okay, not just a war story) to be.
In the end what I liked best about this book what what I liked in the very beginning: “When the ice give in beneath you it changes how you dream.” Those are musician John Gorka’s words, appearing in the epigraph.