Monday, May 20, 2013

“They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.”

The Things They Carried

by Tim O'Brien

Published by Mariner Books

5 Out of 5 Stars

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?  The third?  The fourth?  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 non-linear 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 "happening-truth" (what objectively happened) and which of the stories are "story-truth" (stories that may not have happened but because they strike the right emotional chord are more valid 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. 

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