Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Things They Carried

The New York Times blurb on the front of the reissued paperback of Tim O'Brien's classic book about the Vietnam War reads, "A marvel of storytelling...a vital, important book--a book that matters not only to the reader interested in Vietnam, but to anyone interested in the craft of writing as well." O'Brien has told his own war story in fictionalized form, in a series of interconnected short pieces. It is brilliant. He says at one point, "If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted ... you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie." Many authors have written of their war experiences, whether it be in WWII, Vietnam, or the more modern battlegrounds of Iraq and Afghanistan. Very few of those have the ability to capture the nuances and make you feel the story deeply in the pit of your stomach. O'Brien has that talent. In a tender balancing act, he writes of the beauty of the jungle, the exhilaration of camaraderie, while also recording the brutality of war. O'Brien was not confident that our country should be at war in Vietnam, and when drafted, he toyed with the idea of running for the Canadian border from his home in Minnesota. He struggled deeply, thinking that running would be the bravest thing he could do. Instead, he says what drove him to report for duty as ordered was "hot, stupid shame." He feared exile more than he feared war. The bravest thing, in the end, was observing, participating in, and recording the mundane and the misery of being a soldier in that time and place. Highly recommended.

Kelly Currie

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