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Book Review of The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried
thunderweasel avatar reviewed on + 147 more book reviews


Somewhere in Vietnam, there is a naked, mask-wearing, painted soldier trick-or-treating in a sleepy, quiet village.

The Things They Carried is like a diamond in the dirt - of all the war novels of its day, this one is tops because, at the heart of it, it's not a war novel. It's a novel about love and death. Those loving and dying just happen to be fighters in the Vietnam War.

The Pulitzer Prize finalist can be classified as "fictional non-fiction" with O'Brien placing himself in the book as a member of the Alpha Company platoon. His first-person narrative makes the events he details in Things more realistic than they already are. Each surprising death and its accompanying gruesomeness are elaborated on and sometimes reiterated throughout the book in reference to O'Brien's contemplations of life. His guilt behind the deaths of sparing civilians and team members Ted Lavender ("who was scared") and Kiowa (whose death lost him the Silver Star) are heart-breaking, but insightful into his and the team's view on death as a whole.

His ties to other experiences, like the death of his first love Linda, are genuine, deep, and pure genius. But even as O'Brien jumps around from the team's meeting with church monks to O'Brien's attempted escape to Canada to avoid draft, the meaning and purpose remain true and consistent. Though, "true" might not be the right word, for as O'Brien points out, "when you go to tell about [the story], there is always that surreal seemingness, which makes the story seem untrue, but which in fact represents the hard and exact truth as it seemed."

And there it is, boys. There it is.


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