In The Lake Of The Woods by Tim O’Brien

Mike’s Review

Why am I like this? If you tell me the weight of the iron tea kettle then its capacity, I really expect to know if that’s its weight empty or full.

I hope this cut and paste police report style is only for this chapter. I understand the draw to write it (easily lump in plot, foreshadowing, suspense), but it’s not nearly as much fun to read as a connected narrative (which is probably why I’m writing this note instead of reading right now). (Towards the end, it picked up some steam.)

I’ve watched a couple true crime profile-of-a-murderer type shows lately, so this comment is influenced by that, but it seems so easy to find reasons to leave a relationship, to find reasons/problems why a man would kill his wife. Is it just the Catholic in me that sees powering through that and still staying as honorable? Wow. That turned larger than I meant for it to, but I’m not changing it.

I want to live where the police have not only read The Crying Of Lot 49, but will allow it to be evidence in a missing person/murder case.

If I’m being honest, I kinda found myself wondering how O’Brien became so important, but then there was a battle scene and I couldn’t forget.

How could John the spy allow Kathy to fly to another city without him? And then not even notice she came back early? That doesn’t seem like the same desperate John Wade.

These quotes in the Evidence chapters are probably more effective if you don’t cheat/skip ahead to see who said them first. “Like, whoa, that’s his mom? I thought that was his platoonmate.”

Holy shit! (SPOILER? There’s not much of a plot, but you deserve this feeling if you’re going to read this book.) He transported his history? That’s crazy-fucking crazy! I feel jubilant even though I know it backfires.

I’m so glad I don’t have to talk about the function of the structure (the time-shifts, the evidence chapters) (or O’Brien’s themes of truth/history). Stories are told how they need to be told. That’s all, teach.

“On occasion, especially when I’m alone, I find myself wondering if these old tattered memories weren’t lifted from someone else’s life, or from a piece of fiction I once read or once heard about.” I believe my own stories.

Valerie’s response

I don’t know who this guy is, but you mention the author became important, and yet. I am in the dark.

Can’t really tell what this is about from this review. Though I enjoyed the exclamatory, talking-to-self nature of the review. Maybe a mystery or crime thriller? Help me out if you care to, and please pardon my lazy ignorant ass for not just googling it.

Mike’s response

It’s more fun in this context to not google it. Tim O’Brien writes about Vietnam. Really fucking writes about Vietnam. Really well. Also the nature of truth and history and whether or not those two are mutually exclusive. I think that’s an adequate description.

Perhaps he’s not important? I usually assume that if I’ve heard of a writer, s/he must matter on some level. Though he has won a National Book Award (in 1979! On some level, I knew he had to be that old in order to have served in Vietnam, but I’m still surprised) and a couple other, less-important sounding awards. In my limited college, I’ve read him at least once, possibly twice. My understanding is The Things They Carried is pretty much the go-to to illustrate how shitty war/Vietnam is/was.

Basic plot here: Man runs for public office. Defeated by landslide. He and his wife escape to the woods to take stock of their lives. She goes missing. That night he’s in something of a Vietnam-induced blackout-rage. Whether or not he did it isn’t exactly the point, but it is something of a true-crime book of sorts. Vietnam, history and truth strong themes. I imagine this was viewed as something of a departure for O’Brien, though it’s still kinda similar too.

It’s much easier to talk to myself and assume others are on the same page. I do it a lot in real life too, but it’s especially obvious here. So far it’s worked out okay though. What can I say, I’m really self-absorbed.

vv’s response

Thanks for that. I would probably read this or The Things They Carried. It sounds good. Vietnam was a scary time and place, jesus. I read Herr’s Dispatches (nonfiction) not long ago, a photographer’s account of traveling with soldiers. It gave me nightmares for weeks. These kinds of books are important for documenting the stupidity of war.

Mike’s response

If you’re going for the cruelty of war aspect, read The Things They Carried. This accomplishes a certain post-war traumatic-horror, but not the same thing.

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