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In the Lake of the Woods

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  16,557 ratings  ·  1,410 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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Aya Oulal I think that when John says love, he means that he is obsessed. So obsessed that he followed her around everywhere and could not get enough. It was a …moreI think that when John says love, he means that he is obsessed. So obsessed that he followed her around everywhere and could not get enough. It was a dangerous obsession and addiction and could have led to her overall outcome. (less)

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Dec 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, fiction
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
Elizabeth George
I loved this book the first time I read it, and I loved it having just finished it for the second time. I could easily go back to the beginning and read it for a third time right now. This book is not for the faint at heart, nor is it for people who have to have things tied up in bows. It's a book that demonstrates the shattering of a psyche that was fragile to begin with. It's a book about a man who doesn't know himself and thus seeks a definition of self through others and their reactions to h ...more
J.K. Grice
Oct 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery-thriller
IN THE LAKE OF THE WOODS is one of the most original thrillers you will ever read. 14 years later, I still think about how powerful this book was.
Jun 12, 2016 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 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
Dec 06, 2011 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
Apr 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a deceptively angry book. It may look normal and unassuming on the outside, even boring, but on the inside, it's a slow-building, roiling, burning rage, the kind that sucks you in and makes you burn along with it. And I could not stop reading or even look away. Finished it in 36 hours. All I did this weekend was read this book and let it burn.

Beautifully written, bitterly frustrating, angry and wholly unexpected.
Looks real black and white now--very clear--but back then everything came at
Apr 01, 2012 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...

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

--Brian Eno and David Byrne

Tim O'Brien is a magician and so in a lot of ways he's like Sorcerer, John Wade from In the Lake of the Woods, but instead of smoke and mirrors O'Brien uses words to tell true stories that never happened
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Whoever undertakes to write a biography binds himself to lying, to concealment, to flummery ... Truth is not accessible.

Sigmund Freud, as cited by Alfred Kazin, "The Self as History: Reflections on Autobiography".

5 stars for sure. Gripping, amazing read. Not a fun read though. Parts are too intense to be fun.

O'Brien the consummate unreliable (third person) narrator here. And he's at his most unreliable when it looks like he's being most reliable. Footnotes here, there, everywhere. Many of the fo
Mar 22, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chrissie by: Sandy
In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien is a book of historical fiction. It accurately portrays the slaughter of Vietnamese villagers by American soldiers on March 16, 1968 in Thuan Yen, South Vietnam. Reading of the events is grisly. Those who lived through that day and survived would be forever traumatized.

The central protagonist of the fictional story was there that day. His name is John Ward. The story is about him and his wife Kathy. John goes into politics in an effort to wipe clean that w
K.D. Absolutely
Mar 16, 2011 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
Larry Bassett
Apr 21, 2011 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
Apr 29, 2012 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
Linda Lipko
Sep 01, 2009 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
Marc Nash
Jan 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Superlative, this will get into my all-time top 20 reads. Full video review ...more
Feb 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Among the glowing review snippets in my paperback copy of this book is one from Harper's Bazaar, calling it a "postmodern thriller." As much as I generally have a knee-jerk hate reaction to anything labeled "postmodern" or "experimental" (I blame Don DeLillo for this), I think that description is accurate and yet I really enjoyed this book.

On the surface, this is the mystery of what happened to the wife of failed senatorial candidate John Wade. After a scandal from his past service in Vietnam s
Aug 03, 2011 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
Feb 14, 2014 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 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.
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.
Aug 07, 2012 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
Sep 12, 2012 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 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
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
May 19, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: minnesota
I like Tim O'Brien's writing style and this was a page-turner for the most part. I stumbled quite a bit on the excessive quotes throughout the book and struggled with too much repetition, especially the ghastly repetition of memories from Vietnam. The themes of rape and murder are constantly in your face. Perhaps his point was how often they were in the soldier's face during the war? Maybe, but I believe that enough horror exists in just *imagining* what happened. I wouldn't discount his writing ...more
This was a very fucked up story, involving one seriously fucked up guy, a fucked up childhood, a fucked up marriage, and probably the most notoriously fucked up incident coming out of America's most fucked up war. I respect it as a piece of well-crafted literature, but I certainly can't say I enjoyed it.
iiiiinteresting. I took ages to actually finish this book--I read several books in between--but still enjoyable in all.
When I came upon this book, its scorching cover colour immediately grabbed my attention, as did the title. Lake of the Woods? Really? I was born in a community on the northern shore of The Lake of the Woods, but this story could not possibly be set in that wilderness! Or could it? Well, it is! The subject matter is one that I normally avoid but — how could I not read this book?

It was a whirlwind. So much packed into a mere 300 pages. I careened through it in a record 36 hours! It’s a mystery wit
Nov 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the saddest books I have ever read about a man who did terrible things, cannot forgive himself for them and ruins his own life and his wife's too because of it. Or maybe its about a sociopath who was always capable of terrible things and just needed a war to draw them out.

It's a little shaggy around the edges, not as clean as Tim O'Brien's best book 'The Things They Carried" but still the work of a master storyteller obsessed by the subjects of pain, grief, memory and running away from a
Sentimental Surrealist
Tim O’Brien won himself a jumbo shrimp bucket of acclaim for this book, as he always does when (and only when - remember when he tried to write a sex comedy and the general reaction was “why did you do that?”) he writes, somehow or other, about the Vietnam War. Indeed, our hero seems to have staked out territory as the country’s literary conscience when it comes to that war. Which is just as well, as it didn’t amount to much more than a massive prolonged waste of human life, both American and, a ...more
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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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