The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

I promised to read this book as a favor for someone. It’s a novel, or a collection of interconnected short stories, about the Vietnam War. The author was an infantryman in Vietnam. The book is much admired (a “book of the century”, a Pulitzer finalist, etc.).Β 

Some of it seems to capture what it must have been like to be in Vietnam, especially the first chapter, which is excellent. ButΒ I wouldn’t have finished it, except for the promise I made. There is too much exaggeration. Too much of it is over-written. It’s repetitious. A description of childhood memories is unbelievably detailed. It reminded me of what Mary McCarthy said about Lillian Hellman: “every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’.”

Here is one example, a quotation from a letter supposedly written to the author by a fellow soldier:Β 

“The guy wants to talk about it but heΒ can’t …Β If you want, you can use the stuff in this letter. (But not my real name, okay?) I’d write it myself except I can’t ever find any words, if you know what I mean, and I can’t figure out what exactly toΒ say.”

People writing letters in the 1970s either wrote them by hand or used a typewriter. In neither case were they able to write in italics. And I bet that nobody but an English professor would write “okay” instead of “ok” or “o.k.”.Β 

The Things They CarriedΒ is fiction that too often doesn’t ring true. Β (3/22/13)