After fifty years or so, it seems impossible that there would be anything new to hear about the war in Vietnam. Boys were sent to the other side of the world to commit murder and mayhem and many of them came back damaged and broken. Many of them didn’t come back at all. We’ve seen their stories in TV shows and movies, read about them in books and short stories. We’ve even laughed about the conflict in the sort-of-a-protest song Alice’s Restaurant. So it is a bit surprising to read yet one account of yet one more soldier’s experience and find it a griping read.
The Things They Carried is a collection of short stories and was originally published in 1990. It’s a book that I somehow missed over the past twenty-five years or so. I’m glad I found it now.
The Things They Carried is a tad on the repetitive side. Several of the stories are told several times. We are told that one version is the War Story version, one version is the Writer’s version, one version is the Truth, and so on. This leaves less a feeling of total disclosure of the facts, and more of a feeling of, facts? what the fuck are facts?
Our heroes are all rough talking, rough acting, and often heartless and cruel soldiers fighting a war they didn’t ask to fight. Easily the most amazing story is about the time one the narrator’s buddies brings his girlfriend over from home. She just shows up one day and moves into the barracks. Then she changes, she goes nuts, she becomes a comic book character who kills the enemy and takes body parts as trophies. It’s one of the tales that is bizarre and baffling. And there is no real end to it. Anything our heroes didn’t witness personally they treat like hearsay evidence and tend to ignore.
There is a lot of death and depression, both in the war and once they return home. The bulk of the stories are war stories. But not tales of great combat missions or battles, just tales of the daily horrors of being a solider in Vietnam. They remain gripping and thought provoking. The author is amazed, as he writes some twenty odd years later, that he is still processing his time in Vietnam.
I listened to the audio-book and it was read by Bryan Cranston. He does a great job, just as he does with every project he undertakes.
The Things They Carried is a great read. Tim O’Brien has an interesting style and tells his tales in unusual ways.