epub The Things They CarriedAuthor Tim O'Brien – Circuitwiringdiagram.co

I first bought The Things They Carried at the Bruised Apple, a used bookstore and coffee shop in downtown Peekskill, New York, back in 1991 when I was fifteen years old By the time I graduated from high school a few years later I'd read it so often that the pages, already brittle, were nearly worn through, entire sections underlined in pencil Loaned out and lost to a college crush years ago, a dear friend bought me a replacement copy awhile back signed to me by Tim O'Brien himself This new copy is not quite as loveworn, but still it is cherished.The beauty of this book lies not necessarily in the war stories at its center, but rather in the undulating, overlapping entanglements that are people's lives, in the act of using storytelling as a means of recapturing our histories, bringing the many facets of our so often fragmented selves forward into the present day The lyrical poetry of O'Brien's writing combined with the brutality of Vietnam imagery is truly a shock, traumatizing yet powerfully beautiful in its way, and the force of language itself is a revelation.As O'Brien writes, The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head. These connected stories are about young men in their late teens and early twenties doing their best to carry the weight of a brutal war on their shoulders, along with dozens of pounds of field kit and weaponry They carry so much weight it is hard to even imagine how they could walk the miles they did, crossing rivers, muddy streams, up hills and down into valleys, somehow placing one foot in front of the other while their eyes and ears scan for danger.The equipment is not all they carry Some carry guilt, some carry cowardice, some carry aggression, some carry courage, some carry fear, some carry righteousness, some carry hatred, and some carry doubt Of all the feelings they carry, the weight of futility has to be the hardest to bear Maybe futility isn’t the right word They carry with them the knowledge that where they are and what they are doing is all the choice they have Short of doing damage to themselves to be airlifted out of there, they all carry the weight of being stuck.These stories don’t stop with the horror and macabre humour of being part of a platoon of young men in war There is also a story about what one of them experienced after the war His need to talk about it and his inability to do so His recognition that he needs purposeful work versus his doubt that any such thing exists any .Tim O’Brien’s writing is exceptional With one sentence he can cut to the heart of an event Occasionally he uses repetition of a scene or sequence that made me feel I was there, living it, then reliving the shock of it, trying to find the sense in it.This book does not go into the politics of war and does not mention the hawks sitting behind huge desks with lovely scenery outside their windows, busy directing traffic regardless of what the cost in human lives may be So, I won’t go into it, either.This book is about being in the thick of the traffic – driving blind in a night so dark there is no difference between eyesopen and eyesclosed It is about not knowing – if you have enough gas, if a tire will blow, if the vehicle will overheat, if it will be blown up into the trees or bogged down and sunk in a field of sewage It is about being one of many little vehicles with two legs and heavy burdens to carry and not knowing if you will ever see home again.This was a Traveling Sisters Group read with Brenda, Diane, JanB, Marialyce, and Nikki This was a great choice for a Group read and discussion and I enjoyed it a lot Forreviews of this book as well as many others, visit the Sisters blog at About 20 connected short stories from an author who has become the main literary spokesperson for the story of Americans in the Vietnam War The book is highly rated on GR (4.1 with almost a quartermillion ratings) How often do you see the front pages with 40 blurbs praising the work from every recognized source you can think of: from the NT Times (which listed it as a Book of the Century) and The Wall Street Journal to Booklist and Publishers Weekly.The author warns us that he is an unreliable narrator He frequently talks to the reader and writes that this or that story may or may not be true It’s as if we are in the war zone and guys are telling us stories of “things they heard.” The time frame ranges from before the war to twenty years after Several stories are only two or three pages The title story, first in the book, tells us how much we can tell about the personalities of the men in the field by the extra items they carry with them at all times: love letters; a Bible; dope; condoms; a dried human thumb; a slingshot (a weapon of last resort); a rabbit’s foot; vitamins; tanning lotion; a girlfriend’s pantyhose around the neck In How to Tell a True War Story, the author sets the tone: “If a story seems moral, do not believe it If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie There is no rectitude whatsoever There is no virtue.” “I should forget it But the thing about remembering is that you don’t forget.”In “On the Rainy River,” the author spends a week at a deserted summer camp in far northern Minnesota He works for an elderly man, trying to work up the courage to flee to Canada to avoid the draft “I was a coward I went to the war.”Of a medic who worked on a base where wounded were flown in by helicopter to be stabilized before being flown again to a real hospital: “It was gory work, Rat said, but predictable Amputations, mostly – legs and feet….For a medic, though, it was ideal duty, and Rat counted himself lucky.” “Notes” looks at the toll on men after they returned home One man lives with his parents and drives the several miles around a lake in his hometown for hours every night “ 'The thing is’ he wrote, ‘there’s no place to go Not just in this lousy little town In general My life, I mean It’s almost like I got killed over in Nam.’ ” A young man’s mother writes to the author telling him of her son’s, his friend’s, suicide “He’d been playing pickup basketball at the Y; after two hours he went off for a drink of water; he used a jump rope; his friends found him hanging from a water pipe There was no suicide note, no message of any kind ‘Norman was a quiet boy, his mother wrote, ‘and I don’t suppose he wanted to bother anybody.’ Powerful writing The author is also famous for his other books about the Vietnam War, including Going After Cacciato, which was made into a movie Many of the stories in Carried were made into episodes of a TV series ‘This is Us.’Top photo from Britannica.comA Vietnam landscape in Cao Bang province from dailymail.co.ukThe author from pmcdeadline2.files.wordpress.com One of the first questions people ask about The Things They Carried is this: Is it a novel, or a collection of short stories? The title page refers to the book simply as a work of fiction, defying the conscientious reader's need to categorize this masterpiece It is both: a collection of interrelated short pieces which ultimately reads with the dramatic force and tension of a novel Yet each one of the twentytwo short pieces is written with such care, emotional content, and prosaic precision that it could stand on its ownThe Things They Carried depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and of course, the character Tim O'Brien who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of fortythree They battle the enemy or maybe the idea of the enemy, and occasionally each other In their relationships we see their isolation and loneliness, their rage and fear They miss their families, their girlfriends and buddies; they miss the lives they left back home Yet they find sympathy and kindness for strangers the old man who leads them unscathed through the mine field, the girl who grieves while she dances, and love for each other, because in Vietnam they are the only family they have We hear the voices of the men and build images upon their dialogue The way they tell stories about others, we hear them telling stories about themselvesWith the creative verve of the greatest fiction and the intimacy of a searing autobiography, The Things They Carried is a testament to the men who risked their lives in America's most controversial war It is also a mirror held up to the frailty of humanity Ultimately The Things They Carried and its myriad protagonists call to order the courage, determination, and luck we all need to survive Awestruck may be the best way to describe how I felt upon reading this book the first time So how did I feel upon reading it the second time? I just want to bow at Tim O'Brien's feet while muttering a Wayne's World style I'm not worthy, I'm not worthy Using nonlinear narrative and stringing together seemingly unrelated stories into one ultimately cohesive work, O'Brien achieves something that traditional narrative never could: his work reflects the emotional truth of what it was like to be a soldier in Vietnam and to be a veteran still living with memories that, when triggered, seem as real and visceral as if they were happening in the present This is memoir, metafiction, magical realism, and a whole grab bag of other literary genres rolled into one O'Brien himself admits that we as readers may not know which of the stories are happeningtruth (what objectively happened) and which of the stories are storytruth (stories that may not have happened but because they strike the right emotional chord arevalid than what really happened) However, the reader should not feel manipulated by this storytelling technique as it seeks to forge a connection between those who were there and those who were not; it does not seek to tell what happened, but to make you feel what it was like to be there The book is nothing short of a masterpiece Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder “It’s time to be blunt I’m fortythree 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…I want you to feel what I felt I want you to know why storytruth is truer sometimes than happening truth.” Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried has sat on my bookshelf for years Maybe since high school, meaning that it has sat on various shelves, in various rooms, in various states, for almost twenty years I have no excuse for this No good excuse, anyway The other day, one of my (grossly overloaded) bookcases collapsed While sifting through the debris, I found a copy of the novelization of the movie Independence Day Yes, that movie The one with Randy Quaid “acting” crazy Not only did I have it, but I remembered reading it But not The Things They Carried Until now Spurred on by Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War, which features O’Brien as a contributor, I finally tore through this thin volume It’s barely worth mentioning, since it is one of the most wellknown, if not the most wellknown war novels of all time, but The Things They Carried is an interlocking series of short stories Many of the stories appeared at different times and in different venues, but they are meant to go together, flowing one from the next Each story informs, amplifies, and sometimes even critiques the others All the stories revolve around the men of Alpha Company This is a fictional unit, but O’Brien toys with the idea of truth and fiction a great deal This begins before the book even starts, when O’Brien dedicates The Things They Carried to Alpha That might be the most surprising thing to me I expected this to be a hardcore look at Vietnam Instead, it is a powerful piece of metafiction that happens to be set in Vietnam.The Things They Carried started off pretty much as expected The book opens with the famous eponymous story detailing what the men of Alpha Company carried into war, from firearms and clays to love letters and charms It is good stuff, yet not entirely unique I used to read a good deal of Vietnam war fiction, and most of it springs from the platoon or company level, following small groups of disparate men in the jungle For awhile, I recognized O'Brien's novel as something that had been done before, even if its sensitivity was different Partway through the novel, O’Brien moves in an unexpected direction He begins interjectingof himself into his tales He caps this off by telling two stories in succession, the latter story explaining that the former had been fictionalized, that names had been changed, that events had been elided At first, O’Brien’s manipulation of the artificiality of the novel as a form took me out of things Good fiction forces you to suspend your disbelief But when you point out literary tropes, it’s no longer possible to harbor that suspension Eventually, though, O'Brien's technique started to pay off It hit me that his musings on his own inventions and storymaking decisions gave his tales an unexpected authenticity I began to believe, wholeheartedly, in an underlying realness, despite the fact that everything – including O’Brien’s metacommentary – is fictional Of course, none of this literary experimentation would mean a thing if it lacked substance The Things They Carried packs a lot of memorable moments into less than 250 paperback pages There is a darkly hilarious sequence in which a soldier at a thinlyregulated medical detachment invites his girlfriend in from stateside to spend time with him incountry The premise is gonzo, and only gets better as the girlfriend begins going full Kurtz She starts visiting nearby villages, hangs out with the Green Berets, and eventually starts going out on patrol and participating in ambushes.Another section, haunting and mournful, sees the O’Brien character deciding whether to run to Canada in order to avoid Vietnam He drives up to the Rainy River, where he spends a week with an old man at an otherwiseempty resort The old man takes him fishing, right next to the international border:I remember staring at the old man, then at my hands, then at Canada The shoreline was dense with brush and timber I could see tiny red berries in the bushes I could see a squirrel up on one of the birch trees, a big crow looking at me from a boulder along the river That close – twenty yards – and I could see the delicate latticework of the leaves, the texture of the soil, the browned needles beneath the pines, the configurations of geology and human history Twenty yards I could’ve done it I could’ve jumped and started swimming for my life Inside me, in my chest, I felt a terrible squeezing pressure Even now, as I write this, I can still feel the tightness And I want you to feel it – the wind coming off the river, the waves, the silence, the wooded frontier You’re at the bow of a boat on the Rainy River You’re twentyone years old, you’re scared, and there’s a hard squeezing pressure in your chest.The Things They Carried is filled with such moments of beauty, sadness, perceptiveness, and power It should be said, though, that it is a very narrow viewpoint into the Vietnam experience The fictionalized O’Brien writes from the perspective of a welleducated young white man, which makes him a familiar Virgil of Vietnam There is not much separating the O’Briennarrator from Charlie Sheen’s Taylor in Platoon, or Matthew Modine’s Joker in Full Metal Jacket There is nothing inherently wrong with this, only that it limits the novel’s breadth Topics you might expect, such as politics or race, are barely mentioned, if at all Really, there’s not much for me to add, only repeat The Things They Carried is as good as advertised The biggest surprise is that it had as much to say about writing and story structure as it did about the most controversial war in United States history. It’d be a bad idea to challenge Tim O’Brien to a round of TruthOrDare because he’d find a way to pick Truth, launch into a story, recant it, then make you think he really chose Dare, but in the end, you’ll be pretty sure he actually told you the Truth after all Maybe…That’s kind of the point about this account of his time Vietnam as an infantry soldier that warns us that war stories are tricky The ones that sound true are probably lies and the ones that seem outlandish probably have a healthy dose of truth in them By telling us some fact and some fiction, then revealing which is which (Allegedly.), O’Brien shows that sometimes a well told lie based on fact haspower than a real story accurately told Taken together, O’Brien’s stories make it clear that he spent the decades after the war mulling over the various things he took away from it This isn’t the memoir of a guy who obtained some kind of closure by writing it, it’s the story of the fear, doubt and confusion he still wrestled with decades later In order to convey that experience, he had to tell the reader some war stories and let us decide just how true they were. I've read reviews of this seen this book pass me by at the library, but for some reason was always reluctant to read Why? Maybe just hits a little to close to home, knew many of my friends brothers who served, some lived, some of course did not My own husband was in the Air Force at this time, not sent to Vietnam, and not yet my husband, still just a friend He did though unload the bodies of returning soldiers who did not make it through their service It was thankfully near the end of the war.Years have passed, and the Sisters group decided to read and discuss this, so I decided now was the time, it was now or never We had a great discussion, for some reason I was under the misapprehension that this was non fiction It is not though it is written as if it was, which caused a bit of confusion as to how we perceived what we were reading Was what we were reading true or not? In fact the author discussed this in one of the stories, if it is not true but could have been true how does that change how one feels about the book That did bother me a bit.In the end I decided it didn't really matter because these stories in all their grimness, terrible situations, and yes occasionally humor, were an unfortunate and very unfair set of circumstances that these extremely young men found themselves shouldering It made their experiences personal, gave these soldiers names, and detailed all the guilt they felt when they survived, or made a wrong decision that cost lives A beyond terrible situation for me in their late teens or early twenties to have to handle All wars are terrible but the way these soldiers were treated when they returned was surely criminal At least as a nation, if we have learned nothing else, we have learned to treat our returning soldiers with the respect they deserve, and as the heroes they surely are. See But wait … way down below … and sometimes I can see Timmy skating with Linda under the yellow floodlights I’m young and happy I’ll never die I’m skimming across the surface of my own history, moving fast, riding the melt beneath the blades, doing loops and spins, and when I take a high leap into the dark and come down thirty years later, I realize it is as Tim trying to save Timmy’s life with a story.That’s the last 71 words of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried Timmy is Tim O'Brien (or maybe Tim O'Brien, or maybe both or neither) Linda is a girl who he was in love with when he was nine years old maybe, unless she's made up But even if so, the story, the last one in the book, could be true Linda died of cancer a few months after Timmy fell in love with her How much of this story is true? Does it matter? Read on.I bet a ton of papers and reports have been written for high school and college English courses on this book It’s so different from anything I’ve read before I was not able to underline in the book as I read, because I read my daughter’s copy of the book She probably read it in college She read it in college That’s my story Whether it’s true I don’t know, but it should be.So, since I couldn’t underline, I have nothing to base an analysis of the book on So that’s a story I don’t have to write.Asides, almostO’Brien has become not only the premier writer on the American Vietnam experience, he has become something of a metawriter on the concept of truth in “fiction” The fact that this book has that stuff in it is why, against all my habits, after starting to read the book last night after dinner, I finished it before going to bed (at 4:30 am) There are only two other writers who generally lift me away from all other books I am reading and won’t let me back to them until they put me down – George Pelecanos and Patrick O’Brian (hmm – O’Brian, O’Brien).In case you don’t know, this is not a novel It’s a collection of short stories It’s novellike because most of the stories take place in Vietnam, within a platoon of men fighting there in the late 60s, and the same characters slide from one story to the next But the stories aren’t in any particular timeorder, though the later stories in the book generally happen later than the earlier ones And some of the stories are less connected to the others.Who is “Tim O’Brien”?There are really two Tim O’Briens here, a character and a writer, and they aren’t the same.I didn’t realize for a long time that the book’s narrator, “Tim O’Brien”, who is telling these stories is a fictional character He shares a lot of unlikely details with Tim O’Brien the writer, who wrote the stories But they aren’t the same!Or at least we can’t be sure where they are the same, and where they’re distinct (Actually, “Tim O’Brien” sometimes talks about writing some of the stories – but maybe that’s the other Tim O’Brien, the writer You do understand where all those English assignments come from, don’t you?) Both the Tim O’Briens grew up in Worthington Minnesota They both graduated from Macalester College in 1968 They both got drafted soon after college, they both served in Vietnam in 196970, they both were involved in combat for about a year They both came home and became writers But, did I mention that they aren’t the same? Get your hands around that.How O’Brien dances with the truth.This ambiguity about the O’Briens is part of a larger ambiguity that O’Brien (let’s just use the same name for both of them from now on) writes/talks about throughout the novel – an ambiguity about what is true and what isn’t There’s even a story in the book about this: “How to Tell a True War Story” O’Brien says that if someone tells you a war story, “You’d feel cheated if it never happened … Yet even if it did happen – and maybe it did, anything’s possible – even then you know it can’t be true, because a true war story does not depend upon that kind of truth Absolute occurrence is irrelevant A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.” What he’s implying is that a story about something that never happened can affect the listener, can impart to him a truth about an overall situation, “reality”, that is not imparted by a mere recounting of what actually happened O’Brien is reported as once answering the question “Can someone who’s been in war teach us anything about war?”, by saying “No All he can do is tell us stories about war.”Fiction and reality can blur; and in war they can’t not blur.The two stories that nailed Tim O’Brien.There are two stories in the book which wend their way through multiple other stories, and ultimately illustrate the ambiguous nature of O’Brien’s reality The first one is the story of a Vietnamese he killed Or at least he may have killed The main description is in The Man I Killed Other stories that deal with it in depth are Ambush and finally Good Form But the episode is also mentioned in several other stores.The second of these extended, and very ambiguous, tales is a story about the death of his closest friend in the platoon See Speaking of Courage, Notes, In the Field, and finally Field Trip These four stories could be analyzed from now to next Christmas without coming to a certain conclusion as to what actually happened, and what the two Tim O’Briens had to do with any of it.The two stories that nailed me.(2) Sweetheart of the Song Tra BongThe second of these stories was a mindblowing story called Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong Tim O’Brien the character plays no part in it, except to introduce it (view spoiler)[Vietnam was full of strange stories, some improbable, some well beyond that, but the stories that will last forever are those that swirl back and forth across the border between trivia and bedlam, the mad and the mundane This one keeps returning to me The actual story is told by one of the platoon characters, Rat; it’s about (view spoiler)[ an assignment that Rat previously had on a remote mountain top near a village (“ville”) It was sort of a Mashtype assignment, where wounded would be brought in by local choppers for emergency and trauma care, then shipped out by chopper to rear areas Mostly they played volleyball and sat around, probably smoking weed No officers, no discipline One day they’re shooting the shit, and someone says hey you know we could fly a broad in here A few weeks later, a “tall, bigboned blond” steps out of the supply chopper one morning, and is introduced by their young medic as Mary Anne, his seventeen year old girlfriend from Cleveland Heights Senior High, by way of LA, Bangkok, and Saigon.Well, skipping a whole lot of the story, the girl takes to ‘Nam like a bee to a flower She starts dressing like the guys, learns how to fire a rifle, goes down into the ville to check out the locals, and finally starts going out on patrols with six Greenies (Berets) that have their own little station in an enclosed area near the medic place (thus sort of leaving her boy friend) Again I’m not going to go into the details, but (view spoiler)[ the story takes a very strange twist, and we find this seventeen year old morphing into a female Apocalypse Now style Brando character, wearing a necklace made out of human tongues and hanging out with the Greenies in their hootch (view spoiler)[Across the room a dozen candles were burning on the floor near the open window The place seemed to echo with a weird deepwilderness sound – tribal music – bamboo flutes and drums and chimes But what hit you first was … two kinds of smells There was a topmost scent of joss sticks and incense, like the fumes of some exotic smokehouse, but beneath the smoke lay a deeperpowerful stench …Thick and numbing, like an animal’s den, a mix of blood and scorched hair and excrement and the sweetsour odor of moldering flesh – the stink of the kill … On a post at the rear of the hooch was the decayed head of a large black leopard … Off in the gloom a few dim figures lounged in hammocks … The music came from a tape deck, but the high voice was Mary Anne’s … she stepped out of the shadows … barefoot She wore her pink sweater and a white blouse and a cotton skirt.And that necklace.Well Rat draws the story out nicely, then finally ends it with (view spoiler)[And then one morning, all alone, Mary Anne walked off into the mountains and did not come back … But the story did not end there If you believed the Greenies, Rat said, Mary Anne was still somewhere out there in the dark Odd movements, odd shapes Late at night, when the Greenies were out on ambush, the whole rain forest seemed to stare in at them – a watched feeling – and a couple times they almost saw her sliding through the shadows Not quite, but almost She had crossed to the other side She was part of the land She was wearing her culottes, her pink sweater, and a necklace of human tongues She was dangerous She was ready for the kill (hide spoiler)]