The Things They Carried is a wonderful book.
It is a book about the Vietnam war, especially about a group of American soldiers. I've read a few books about the war, and I've always been fascinated about the treatment of those returning. No ticker tape parades for them. Bad things happened in that police action, I know.
This book was written by Tim O'Brien. He himself is written into the story because he was there, yet it is fiction. And I cannot be positive, but I'm sure much of it is true, though it is fiction. It's an intense book of short stories which are masterfully melded together. Tom O'Brien is a talented writer. This book was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. His style is clear and the language used is simple. Yet, it is emotional, you cannot, not continue, it is just that powerful.
It is about men. Soldiers. The ugliness of war and their reaction to it was hard to read. So much so, there were times i had to put the book aside for a day.
There are stories, for example, about Tim climbing a tree to pick up the parts of his friend, Curt Lemon that he could retrieve, and dropping them to the ground. Curt had been laughing one minute and then stepped on a mine. Rat Kiley's reaction after Curt's death, when they came across a lone baby water buffalo is difficult to read and imagine. I put the book down for a day at that point.
But i think if you're a man you should read this. If you want to understand what men are capable of in good and bad times, you should read this. I think if you want to see beautiful writing you should read this.
There is one interesting chapter called Good Form:
It's time to be blunt.
I'm forty-three years old, true, and I'm a writer now, and a long time ago I walked through Quang Ngai Province as a foot soldier.
Almost everything else is invented.
But it's not a game. It's a form. Right here, now, as I invent myself, I'm thinking of all I want to tell you about why this book is written as it is. For instance, I want to tell you this: twenty years ago I watched a man die on a trail near the village of My Khe. I did not kill him. But I was present, you see, and my presence was guilt enough. I remember his face, which was not a pretty face, because his jaw was in this throat, and I remember feeling the burden of responsibility and grief. I blamed myself. And rightly so, because I was present.
But listen. Even that story is made up.
I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.
Here is the happening-truth. I was once a soldier. There were many bodies, real bodies with real faces, but I was young then and I was afraid to look. And now, twenty years later, I'm left with faceless responsibility and faceless grief.
Here is story-truth. He was a slim, dead, almost dainty young man of about twenty. He lay in the center of a red clay trail near the village of My Khe. His jaw was in his throat. His one eye was shut, the other eye was a star-shaped hole. I killed him
What stories can do, I guess is make things present.
I can look at things i never looked at. I can attach faces to grief and love and pity and God. I can be brave. I can make myself feel again.
"Daddy, tell the truth." Kathleen can say, "did you ever kill anybody?" And I can say, honestly, "Of course not."
Or I can say, honestly, "Yes."
I wrote the above chapter out because to me it is very telling, and i understand it. It is back and forth, yin and yang, it is much like war and Vietnam itself.
The Things They Carried is a beautiful book. It is a book about human grace, horror, humanity, love, guilt and sorrow.
I dare you to read it.