Kristin Shafel Omiccioli's Reviews > The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
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Oct 05, 12

bookshelves: war, short-stories-and-essays, historical-fiction
Read from September 22 to October 05, 2012

The Things They Carried is a metafiction—compiled fictional essays loosely based on the author’s experiences as a soldier in Vietnam. It is not clear what is fiction and what is memoir. He mentions “truth-happening” and “story-happening,” explaining that sometimes stories can better convey history than actual events; a story will evoke an emotional response more than listing the facts. The title refers to more than just the baggage the soldiers haul on their backs—their pasts, memories, feelings, fear, and more. The book’s stories weave around a handful of characters that are brought to life through O’Brien’s lyrical writing style. His descriptions of the war are real, gritty, and powerful. Many sections were painful and difficult to read, yet meaningful and important. It is not a history, but supposed to make you feel like you were there. In this case, O’Brien succeeds. I could feel the sticky air and muggy heat, the miserable incessant rains, smell the putrid mucky swamps. Death is like another character in the book—a constant companion of the living, trudging along beside with them. People die, and each time was shocking for me, yet O’Brien’s words show exactly how jaded and filled with inner psychological turmoil these young men became. While profound on an individual level, the book doesn’t address larger political or moral issues behind this or any war.

Although some chapters dragged a bit, or seemed strangely out of place—a couple were just explanations of the previous story—I really loved it. For me, this was up there with Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front.
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09/22/2012 page 72
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