What really hit me about this book is it’s readability. They’re short stories, kind of, it’s literature, definitely, but you don’t have to go to college or be a snob to love this book.
While meticulously crafted, O’Brien’s storytelling prowess and very personal style never comes off as pretentious or glory seeking or overly “warish” like other war books can be, and the vignette style of presentation, blending truth with fiction, is presented in a very specfic order of set-ups and pay-offs. This is a book of absolute truth and honestly while not everything in the book was actually non-fiction. As Tim O’Brien will tell you directly in the book: this is because the “what happened” and “what it felt like” are two differnt things, and he wanted to covey the real emotions and hauntings and regrets and joys he had experienced while in Vietnam.
Some of these stories, half in fact, take place before he ever went to Vietnam or after he came back, adding to the dimensionality of it all. By not focusing hundreds of pages on a few months in another world, he shows the reader years and years of his life and how everything affected each other. His elementary school girlfriend, the day he was drafted, then later, his conversations with his daughter twenty years later.
Much more powerful than a few months of stories in paddies like other authors, not to detract from their service, just their writing.
I found it to be a total success — something staggaringly original in style and design and craft, while somehow being easily digestible literature of the highest regard. This is a book any one can and should read, because it’s not just about a single war; but about choices, ghosts, and simply humanity. I was awestuck by this book, and while the first three-quarters of the book hit me harder than the last quarter, I will not give “The Things They Carried” a 4.5.
It is a 5/5, and if you want to be moved and know what your mind does in a foreign country during war, and not just when the guns are going off, prepare to be deeply affected and entrenched in cleverly written stories that move and flow and blossom.