ON THE WAY HOME by Robert Bausch


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Michael Sumner, a Vietnam POW until now presumed dead, is returned--in terribly fragile mental shape--to his parents, Dale and Anne, who moved to Florida from Chicago (where Dale was a policeman) after getting the bad news about Michael. This new home in Florida, then, is not-yet-comfortable; and Michael is a wreck. Scarified with memories of carnage interlaced with childhood traumas (mostly involving his father), he ""lives in the house like a pet""--in a fog, gentle but zombieish. Dale has hardly any patience, and he's afraid that Michael's ever-present nightmare will drive him to violence. Meanwhile, a neighbor whose young wife has befriended Michael has similar fears. So, inevitably, Michael is beaten down, by expectation and fear, into a psychological vegetable. Bausch's first novel is especially good at the delicacy of fearful waiting, with everyone walking upon already-once-cracked eggshells; a scene in which Michael is utterly helpless working in a small appliance store--one day is all he can manage--is nearly excruciating. And throughout, like Robert Olen Butler (The Alleys of Eden), Bausch evokes the aftermath and helplessness which may turn out to be the most meaningful Vietnam consequence--in a modestly successful, quietly impressive fiction debut.

Pub Date: March 16th, 1982
Publisher: St. Martin's