Just as The Things They Carried and Catch-22 spoke to their generations with truth and dark humor, this brilliant first novel defines the experience of war for its era.
Benjamin Jones, twenty-three, discharged after an army tour in Somalia, heads cross-country on a Greyhound, seeking refuge on the West Coast. He has left behind his best friend, Trevor, and Liz Ross, a female soldier with whom Jones has fallen in love. But Jones has also left behind a tragedy -- a horrible, split-second action made in Somalia -- that Trevor, Jones, and the army have implicitly agreed to forget.
Alone on the streets of San Francisco, and then north on the Washington coast, Jones finds that an uneducated ex-soldier is qualified only as a peep show fantasy object or as a hired hand to a bottom-feeding smuggler and pornographer. Recurring visions of his life as a soldier gradually reveal the full truth -- and agony -- of his experience, and a reunion with Liz and a violent confrontation with Trevor bring the young soldier's journey to a wrenching conclusion -- but one not without hope.
At equal turns tense, brutal, and poetic, The Ice Beneath You is a soldier's story for a time when there weren't supposed to be any more soldiers' stories.
This sterling first novel offers a study in quiet tension and contemporary social malaise through the prism of postmodern military life. Ben Jones, a disillusioned fry-cook, impulsively leaves his wife and child and enlists in the U.S. Army. After a hellish stint in boot camp at Fort Knox, he is transported to Somalia, where he is assigned to the Army's Waterborne unit and becomes part of a boat crew guarding the U.N. effort to feed and stabilize that volatile nation. Jones teams up with boot camp buddy Trevor Anuscewitz, called "Alphabet," and continues his conflicted relationship with another fellow soldier, Liz Ross, who seems to return his affections, although there is more camaraderie than romance between them. In the course of their duty, Jones and Alphabet become involved in a tragic incident the substance of which has become commonplace for Western troops sent to remote and unstable corners of the globe. After the incident is "hushed up," Jones and Alphabet return to the States, where Jones drifts around the country and Trevor attempts to exorcise the demons that haunt his nightmares. Bauman's style is terse, candid and on target with both language and circumstances. His close analysis of character motivation lends extra tension to an already suspenseful account of soldiers caught up in a confused struggle for survival, a game in which the rules constantly change and where the world seems distant and, for the most part, insane. Too many shifts back and forth in time muddle the novel's effect rather than contributing to the sense of dislocation, but this is in almost every respect a fine first effort, a war story for the new millennium.