I’ve always enjoyed war novels. As someone who’s thankfully never been forced into a war, as O’Brien was with Viet Nam, I find these novels walk the delicate line between what I would consider a fantasy novel and real life horror. This, however, is the first war novel I’ve read where the author clearly believes the same thing.
<Pretend I have an amazing quote here from the book which I wrote down on a napkin while listening to this in a car (and yes, Bryan Cranston did a phenomenal job with the audible narration. Let’s face it, if he can make a movie as bad as Godzilla better, what else can’t he do right?!?) and that I didn’t lose said napkin prior to writing up my review>
See what I mean? What a great quote.
“The Things They Carried” deftly bounces between timelines of pre-war, war and post-war, but does so differently than you might expect. And yes I love the idea of discussing the things these soldiers carried, from condoms, to M&Ms, to tranquilizers (not for the enemy, mind you), to pictures of old girlfriends. But the things that really weighed them down were the guilt. Fear of the unknown. Loss of a moral compass. And tragedies they relived over and over.
My favorite part of this book however wasn’t the war stories, but O’Brien’s almost complicit admission that the stories he’s telling, while true, are also lies. That everything is made up, whether from a soldier’s exaggerations or embellishments to the sheer fallible lucidity of memory. You’re almost brought to tears and then he causes you to wonder if anything he just shared is even true. It’s masterful, and I don’t say that lightly.
I’m putting this on that rare and lofty shelf of books I would reread. Can’t recommend this enough, though do yourself a favor and don’t throw out the crumpled napkins in your car.