Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Things They Carried

My friend and I had just gotten home from a long day of shopping and hiking. We were preparing to relax in front of the TV, watching movies and football. I was looking through the DVDs when I noticed a new book sitting on the couch. It was The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. I was familiar with the title, but couldn't remember what it was about. I assumed that it was for his book club, but he said he picked it up at a book swap. I started to read the first chapter and was immediately transfixed.

The story is technically fiction, depicting a group of friends fighting in the Vietnam war. Some of the chapters, or stories, are told in limited third-person. (That means it is written in third-person, but you only "hear" the thoughts of one character.) Others are told in first-person. When the book begins, it is more of the third-person type, which makes it seem more like entertaining storytelling. As the book progresses, though, the perspective shifts to more of the first-person. The line between fiction and autobiography begins to blur. The main character telling the stories shares the same name as the author. Both of them are writers who had served in Vietnam. And both of them have written the same previous novels.

Meet Jimmy Cross, who believes his unrequited love for Martha has caused the death of one of his friends. Rat Kiley is a medic who slowly loses touch with reality. Henry believes that wearing his girlfriend's stockings around his neck will protect him against anything. Bobby Jorgenson is a green medic who freaks out when he is presented with his first emergencies. Mark Fossie is in love with the beautiful Mary Anne, who comes over from Cleveland Heights, and slowly gets sucked into a nightmare. And there are many more.

Obviously the stories in The Things They Carried are based on the author's real experiences in Asia. They are painfully honest. And as he even states, you just can't make up these situations.

I am a big fan of war novels, especially those that take me deep into the action. It isn't so much that I want to read about the blood and guts aspect. I want to understand the thoughts and emotions being experienced. I have naver been in the service. I never will be in the service. I will never truly understand how or why we go to war and what makes a person want to be on the front lines. The closest I can get is well-written works like this one.

I finished the book in 1 1/2 football games. And the second game was one that I was actively watching. I picked up the book during commercial breaks and time-outs.

That being said, I read awfully fast. It is a compliment to the author if I can zip through a 230-page book in four hours. I may not remember all of the details. I may not be able to dissect certain scenarios in a book discussion. But I became one with the characters. I experienced the book on multiple levels. And to me, that is what reading is all about.

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