The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
There’s something about Tim O’Brien’s books that makes me feel a very strong urge to re-read immediately. I think it’s all the ambiguity.
Plus, I believe him to be worthy of one of them MacArthur genius grants.
His books rock my world.
This is a book I’ve been avoiding for a very long time. I knew someday I’d read it… when I Was Ready. (Similarly, I once dodged Margaret Atwood for about a half-decade, until I determined I Was Ready.)
I’ve been thinking about Vietnam lately, for some reason—and my recent reading of War and viewing of Restrepo have had me thinking about war and soldiers—and so I figured now’s the time. I had the book already checked out from the library when I saw Sophisticated Dorkiness’s online book discussion announced, and I opened the book.
And, dear heaven, this book. This book.
This is a desert island book. It’s the kind of book a person can read and re-read and ponder and discuss and then return to it again.
Just reading the first chapter, also titled “The Things They Carried,” is enough to stop a person’s heart.
And “On the Rainy River” made me weep—the story of how the narrator nearly went to Canada to evade the draft, how he was helped by a stoic older man near the border who feigned ignorance of the younger man’s situation, and why he returned to his home so that he could be sent to war. The silence of those men. It gets me.
Then, the chapters “Speaking of Courage” and “Notes” stunned me so much I had to put the book down so I could let them sink in. (I just wandered around the house in a daze.) The first of those chapters seems like a gently melancholy soldier-returned-home story, and the latter pulls the rug out from under you. But in the fairest possible way. (Not all authors do that action fairly. This guy does.)
This book feels true. Even though I don’t know jack about war. But I trust O’Brien when he writes, even though he tells us that some of the stories are not precisely true—that they’re versions made more true by tweaking some of the details. And I get that. I do.
There are so many reasons this book is on track to be a classic.
But don’t listen to me. Here’s Julia Keller, who can actually tell it.
I swear to God, just reading her article about this book made me get weepy.
O’Brien’s book not only made me weepy, but it made me stand still and stare. I don’t do that so very often.