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In the Lake of the Woods

3.78  ·  Rating Details ·  13,582 Ratings  ·  1,146 Reviews
This riveting novel of love and mystery from the author of The Things They Carried examines the lasting impact of the 20th century's legacy of violence and warfare, both at home and abroad.
Paperback, 320 pages
Published September 1st 1995 by Penguin Books (first published 1994)
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Dec 14, 2013 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2013
Looks real black and white now – very clear – but back then everything came at you in bright colors. No sharp edges. Lots of glare. A nightmare like that, all you want is to forget. None of it ever seemed real in the first place.

In The Lake of the Woods holds a special place in my memory. I first read it about sixteen years ago in a stifling un-air-conditioned and over-crowded classroom, and with all my 90s angst I was prime for it to get under my skin. It was the first time that I realized ther
Jun 12, 2016 Melki rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
"John Wade, you've just lost a big election and have been publicly shamed. What are you going to do next?"

"I'm going to Disney World a remote cabin by a lake where I can ruminate, lick my wounds, and possibly murder my wife!"


Yep, when a lady vanishes, who's the number one suspect? In this case, it just might be the husband. Through flashbacks, we learn all about John, and the more we know, the less we like him.

In early November he began spying on her. He f
Drew Jameson
May 19, 2012 Drew Jameson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has made me shudder at least six times. Astoundingly good. Tim O'Brien has such a subtle mastery, it's almost frightening to read his work. He introduces a seemingly innocuous line on page 10 that sticks out just enough to make you wonder what it's true relevance is, then when he finally reveals it, a hundred pages later, it's devastating. As in The Things They Carried, O'Brien tells a riveting story that reverses back on itself multiple times, and also directly addresses the dilemma o ...more
Apr 01, 2012 Petergiaquinta rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don't do what I want them to
Facts just twist the truth around
Facts are living turned inside out
Facts are getting the best of them
Facts are nothing on the face of things
Facts don't stain the furniture
Facts go out and slam the door
Facts are written all over your face
Facts continue to change their shape

I'm still waiting...I'm still waiting...I'm still waiting...

--Brian Eno and David Byrne
Dec 06, 2011 Jeena rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
First of all, this book made me realize how much I generally like most books that I read. Because this was a screaming exception.

This is the basic summary of the story: In the Lake of the Woods is O'Brien's portrayal of a historian or biographer's attempt at piecing together the mystery of the disappearance of Kathy Wade. Kathy's husband, John, recently lost a primary election to become Minnesota's Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate after his involvement in the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam w
K.D. Absolutely
Mar 16, 2011 K.D. Absolutely rated it liked it
Recommended to K.D. by: Judith Loucks, Sue and Teresa
O'Brien gives you the different options for an ending. Decide for yourself. Whichever you choose, after closing this book, you'd feel glad that you've read it. Extraordinary. There's nothing like this among the 400+ novels that I've read so far.

An ex-Vietnam War army turned politician, John Wade has lost his bid to the Senate. He and his wife, Kathy are debt up to their necks. Married for almost 2 decades, Kathy, 38, has been dreaming of having a baby. Busy with his career, John thinks that it i
Apr 29, 2012 Kristen rated it liked it
Shelves: own, fiction
Tim O’Brien makes me want to be a writer, not because his writing in any way inspires me, but because he makes me think writing isn’t so difficult at all, clearly any asshole can do it. That sounds harsh for as much as I enjoyed this book, I both enjoyed it and at the same time thought it wasn’t very good. You know who would love this book? Caris. Enough said.

So what’s the book about? Kid of an alcoholic father uses magic and illusion to cope, goes to Vietnam, witnesses horrifying massacre, fal
Larry Bassett
Apr 21, 2011 Larry Bassett rated it it was amazing
It’s all here: Alcoholism; Abortion; Secrets; Magic; Politics; Death; Gambling; Vietnam; Suicide; Infidelity; Mystery; Murder; the Northwest Angle and More.
And suddenly, as though caught in a box of mirrors, John looked up to see his own image reflected on the clinic’s walls and ceiling. Fun-house reflections: deformations and odd angles. He saw a little boy doing magic. He saw a college spy, madly in love. He saw a soldier and husband and seeker of public office. He saw himself from inside ou
Feb 14, 2014 Melanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To know is to be disappointed. To understand is to be betrayed. All the petty hows and whys, the unseemly motives, the abscesses of character, the sordid little ugliness of self and history – these were the gimmicks you kept under wraps to the end. Better to leave your audience wailing in the dark, shaking their fists, some crying How? , others Why?

Dreamlike & menacing O'Brien takes a tired plot and sets it alight. His creation - John Wade: soldier, stalker, politician, husband, The Sorcerer
May 20, 2007 Sarah rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Readers who don't need all the answers
This is Exhibit A for the concept of "unreliable narrator" - rather than dropping clues along the way to revealing the answer to a mystery (in this case, why and how Kathy Wade, wife of recently disgraced politician John Wade, disappeared), In the Lake of the Woods draws out all of the possible hypotheses for the disappearance, gives evidence to back each one up - and then never gives you a definite resolution. It's a great use of literary technique, and a truly compelling read.
Aug 03, 2011 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, own
I'm not a writer by any means. I like to think that my head contains somewhat original thoughts. The process of transferring those thoughts into coherently structured paragraphs has always been a challenge for me. But I digress.

I was blown away. Definitely one of the best books I've ever read. It had the potential to be a jumbled, confusing mess of a novel, but O'Brien deftly preserves a perfect balance between mystery and romance. It really is a seamless and fluid combination of bitter memories
Whoa. This book is deep. It deserves the awards it has won. I don't know what it is about O'Brien's novels but they have a way of speaking to me, getting me in the gut. This book had the same effect. It's truly a disturbing story on so many levels. It's a story about the human condition and the big bag of mess that goes with living and dying.
Sep 12, 2012 Mark rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Mark by: Mary
There comes a time when you question your own sanity. This time of year is particularly conducive to it. Spending an hour or two traveling a wasted winter landscape can do it to you too. You read a book like In the Lake of the Woods, and you might think you're pretty stable by comparison. But O'Brien will fuck with you. He'll teach you there is no truth. The only truth, he says, is the one you find by looking inward. But what if you're fucked? Then there is no truth.

Mary said this was a book ab
Oct 28, 2011 Stuart rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While Denis Johnson's 'Tree of Smoke' may be the single best American novel about the Vietnam war, Tim O'Brien, who has made writing 'Nam stories into something of a cottage industry, has put out three terrific books that, taken as a whole, achieve something far more compelling and significant. The first, 'The Things They Carried,' is an extremely personal look into the dehumanization and commodification of the war, told with faux-bureaucratic detachment as a series of inventory lists. The secon ...more
Aug 07, 2012 Savvy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So far I'm intrigued and also horrified at the flash backs descriptions of the war in Vietnam that is revealed through the main protagonist! Hard to comprehend such depravity of the purely evil wartime actions depicted.


That said; the writing was crisp, vivid, and chilling! The mental ravages of 'insanity killing' in the trenches echoes throughout the book. The jarring perversity of it all leaves the reader (this reader anyway) with disturbing questions?

What was real and what was
Linda Lipko
Sep 01, 2009 Linda Lipko rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a real page turner, creatively beautiful and exquisitely styled. It is an exceedingly unsettling and disturbing tale weaving history and mystery together.

John Wade, is a 41 year old Viet Nam veteran whose recently failed Minnesota senatorial bid shatters his facade of success. As a child John was an illusionist and as an adult politician he honed these skills.

Seeking solace from defeat, John and his wife Kathy vacation in the deep Minnesota woods where John's tether to reality snaps. A v
David Jarrett
A depressing book about two unhappy people whose marriage has been disintegrating daily due to the psychological problems of both. PTSD over the Vietnam war's My Lai massacre is seemingly to blame for the downward spiral of the lives of the couple, but this is obviously not the entire cause, as both participants have other psychological problems. The way the book is written, with chapters of vignettes and quotations from acquaintances and family members interspersed with narration in third perso ...more
iiiiinteresting. I took ages to actually finish this book--I read several books in between--but still enjoyable in all.
Patti's Book Nook
I preface this review by acknowledging that this star rating is probably unfair- based on my lack of homework pre-read. I read this solely based on another author recommend and the fact that Tim O'Brien was well-esteemed. I read two blurbs on the back, knew it was a mystery of sorts, and off I went.

The writing was good and the story did not feel dated for being published in 1994. There are no cell phones and there is mention of a landline, but that is obviously par for the course. John Wade h
Aug 01, 2008 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Phenomenal. It's a novel about love, evil, obsession, memory, guilt, complicity, and the improbability of ever really knowing someone who doesn't want to be known, but above all it's O'Brien's attempt to come to grips with the My Lai Massacre. He creates an obsessed narrator who can't let go of the mysterious disappearance of Kathleen Wade, whose husband John was humiliated in a Senatorial campaign after his careful attempts to cover up his role in the slaughter of a village of Vietnamese civili ...more
Asra Syed
Jun 14, 2016 Asra Syed rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
"If all is supposition, if ending is air, then why not happiness?"

I am still marveling at the construction of this book, and in the wholly original, but still somehow not-gimmicky, inventions of this book: the multiple evidence and hypothesis chapters. The quotes, which do seem to be random and distracting at first, make a point on their own, a point we have to construct for ourselves, about war, and sanity, and disappearance, and mystery, and the nature of truth in biography.
I will skip the ob
Sep 25, 2014 Renee rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was a BOTM read for me. I finished it. I found no redeeming qualities in either of the main characters. To me they were flat and undimensionalble. The ending was no ending. It was a bit tedious to read the writing, which went backwards and forwards and sideways, sideways were footnotes to give it a more scholarly effect. It just did not work for me.

There was some background, but not nearly enough on Kathy, so I have no clue why she married and stayed with John. I found that because I could
Jun 07, 2010 Kim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This book tells the story of politician John Wade, who was on a rapid rise up the political ladder when it came crashing down after it was discovered he participated in the My Lai catastrophe during the Vietnam War. He escapes to a remote cabin with his wife, Kathy, who suddenly disappears one day. It is never revealed what ultimately happened to Kathy.

I am torn about this book - I thought it was interesting how O'Brien detailed the events in Vietnam, especially since he himself was in Vietnam.
Brian Wilson
May 20, 2017 Brian Wilson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I was a freshman in college I took a humanities class that dealt with issues surrounding the Vietnam War. The professor was friends with Tim O'Brien, so we had a chance to meet the author immediately after reading 'The Things they Carried.' I remember being excited, and I remember briefly chatting with him and getting an autograph after his talk. But what I remember most is how upset many of my classmates were when O'Brien explained that the book really was fiction, that he had made it up. ...more
Jul 07, 2008 Sherry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sherry by: Sue T
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 06, 2011 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When a student I am tutoring described this book to me (as a result of my asking about an assignment concerning it), I wasn't at all interested. However, I make it a habit to read the works my students are reading so I am able to help them better.

I was thrilled by it. I had only read The Things They Carried before this, but I'd rate this one right up there with it.

John Wade has issues. His father committed suicide when John was young, but the two had never been close. He never received a complim
Sep 14, 2007 Matthew rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people in need of some pulp plus
all in all, it was a well told story that ended up to be all that you thought it was going to be. there were a few moments in time when i thought things were going to turn sour, but o'brien did the right thing by keeping it interesting. the basic story is of a senator who looses his wife. physically, emotionally, metaphysically...yes...all of these in some way or another. we spend the diration of the narrative trying to figure out how he lost her, the judgements attached to that statement (from ...more
May 06, 2008 Josh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tim O'Brien writes pretty much exclusively about Vietnam. In each outing he seems to explore a different facet of the war, or of life afterward.

In the Lake of the Woods is in a way a mystery that serves as a metaphor for post traumatic stress disorder. John Wade, a veteran, and his wife retreat to a cabin in Minnesota after he loses a bid for the United States Senate–Loses after the very events he has spent years hiding from everyone (including himself) are brought to light in the press.

John wak
Good book, good language, strong and poignant message about the things we do to ourselves for the sake of ideals/love/happiness/whatever.

I liked the book. It was good and the message was strong. This is not something you read to find out what happened to John and Kathy at Lake of the Woods but what made them who they were up to the point where the story begins. It's a story about what makes a person who he/she is, the choices, the delusions, the hopes and dreams, the failures, and sometimes, th
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Tim O'Brien matriculated at Macalester College. Graduation in 1968 found him with a BA in political science and a draft notice.

O'Brien was against the war but reported for service and was sent to Vietnam with what has been called the "unlucky" Americal division due to its involvement in the My Lai massacre in 1968, an event which figures prominently in In the Lake of the Woods. He was assigned to
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“We are fascinated, all of us, by the implacable otherness of others. And we wish to penetrate by hypothesis, by daydream, by scientific investigation those leaden walls that encase the human spirit, that define it and guard it and hold it forever inaccessible.” 36 likes
“("I love you," someone says, and instantly we begin to wonder - "Well, how much?" - and when the answer comes - "With my whole heart" - we then wonder about the wholeness of a fickle heart.) Our lovers, our husbands, our wives, our fathers, our gods - they are all beyond us.” 22 likes
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