Allow me to preface this review with a statement: this is one of my desert island books. You know, as in “top 10 books you would take with you to keep you sane and entertained while sipping on a coconut milk smoothie, waiting for rescue in the comfort of your badass Family Swiss Robinson-style treetop crash pad?” Yeah. This is one of them.
You could qualify this and say, “But B! You’re a guy. It’s a war book. Of COURSE you’re going to pick this.”
YOU KNOW WHY I PICKED THIS? GENDER HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.
THIS IS A GOOD GODDAMN BOOK, ABOUT WAR. AND HERE’S WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT.
The Things They Carried ais quasi-fictional story of the Vietnam War (quasi-fictional because as the author puts it, not all war stories have to be true to be real, because sometimes, truth is just crazier than fiction), but it is a friggin’ DOOZY of a collection. And it will break your heart, multiple times. All over the damn place.
O’Brien’s prose is simple, direct, and clean. There’s very little ornamentation; you get the sense that every sentence is integral to the tale, and that few words have been wasted. And there is such power in those words that remain. They paint a picture of places that take your breath away in their majesty, and the people that ground you in them. The people that make you realize how small everything is.
Each of the stories takes you through a different understanding, a phase in the war; the first embroils you in what it is to be over there, to be more than the sum of your parts and at the same time, less, boiled down to your essentials, to the things in your bag. The second takes you through before the war – at a point in time when a person chooses to be part of it, after running away from the possibility. Each damning in their own, and they stay with you – like “The Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong,” the story of a civilian brought into the fold of the military and – well, I can’t talk more about it, because you have to read the damn thing.
Just trust me on this. It’s something you need to read and re-read. It’s war – specifically, Vietnam – in fictional and nonfictional capacities. You never know which is which, but you never need to. All war stories are true stories.
Okay. I know I’ve been throwing out 5 stars like candy. And I will throw out another one. Because while the others may be good examples of their form, or I may have a love as long-lived and undying as the stars themselves for them, this is an absolute classic of literature. This gets 5 stars. BECAUSE I SAID SO.
I’ve also found an excerpt from the book itself online, for free – It’s the story “How To Tell A True War Story”. Read it here. (http://cds.library.brown.edu/projects/WritingVietnam/readings/tob_true_war.html) Then go buy the damn book at the linkity-doo below, k?