Karen's Reviews > The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
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Apr 14, 12

it was amazing
bookshelves: adventure, coming-of-age, death-and-dying, memoir, history, historical-fiction, asian
Read from December 01 to 04, 2011

O'Brien delivers a beautiful, horrible book about his time in Vietnam. Except that his writing exists somewhere in the no man's land between truth and fiction. Except that the book is about the power of storytelling just as much if not more than it is about war.

Some here have criticized O'Brien for mixing genres. I applaud him. Because of workings of memory and imagination, anyone who claims to tell you a true story is suspect--a liar who wants the comfort of creating for him or herself one official version of The Truth. O'Brien uses the tools of both fact and fiction to relay the powerful phenomena (some physical, some metaphysical) that he witnessed in the war. Because this book was published 20 years after his return from Vietnam, it's also clearly about his decades' long efforts to deal with the war after his return.

In addition to refusing to present "just the facts, ma'am," O'Brien resists promoting a moral or a meaning. Some here have criticized him for that, too. I admire him for resisting the impulse to pin down a meaning. He spends his efforts instead describing the setting, characters, action and other details. He focuses on the emotional force of the moment, of the memories, of his imagination as it reaches to describe the indescribable. If readers want to infuse his stories with a moral, O'Brien gives them plenty of material for doing so.

Even though I am not left with a tidy: "The Moral of The Story" statement for this review, I am left with powerful images of about a half dozen very young men, struggling to act and react to the absurdities of war. I am also left with a book that has meta-level awareness of the act of storytelling -- how stories not only instruct and entertain, but how in the face of death and destruction, stories create and preserve life.

May we all create (in various ways, not just as authors) as a way to push away the darkness.
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