Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Book Review: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

I first was assigned this book in college, but the class didn't get around to it. I hung onto it for years as the professor had told us it was amazing, but it eventually went away in a purge. Then three years ago, a friend at the publisher asked if I'd like to have a copy as they were doing a special 20th Anniversary Edition, and I said yes. My copy is autographed to me! And luckily I talked my book club into reading it.

While one or two members of the book club didn't love the book, they all said they thought it was worthwhile. Some people were bothered by the war and the death and violence. And while none of those are my favorite things, this is a book about the Vietnam War, and so it is inevitable.

Tim O'Brien went to Vietnam as a 22-year-old, fresh out of college, and probably one of the older boys in his company. Is this book a memoir? A novel? A short story collection? All of the above? It reads like a memoir, but he tells us some things aren't true. But they are true. But they're not true. It's more about the truth of the emotions that's so vital and telling. At the end of this book, you really feel like you understand what it was like for Tim and the other soldiers. Some died horrible deaths, some skated through physically unscathed, some were poets, some were sadists. They all carried talismans that they thought would keep them safe, would keep them connected to home, would keep them same, and even after they came home, they all carried the emotional baggage. Some coped, some did not.

His writing is beautiful. It's poetic. It's stunning. The writing is such perfection that you read through this book fluidly, smoothly, without even seeing how complex the story is. That is the sign of true brilliance. Normally a complex story is difficult to read and slow going, but this was a fast, easy read. The narration changes from third to first to second, some chapters were initially published separately as short stories, some chapter discuss the writing of those stories, some stories are in the present (1990) and one is in the far past of Tim's childhood. And yet it all holds together as a unified whole. I wasn't sure I wanted to read a book about Vietnam, and obviously it took me a really long time to get around to it, but I am so utterly glad that I did. This book is a masterpiece.

I got this book for free from the publisher, but not in expectation of a review.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah i read it too. Changed my life.