Months ago, I mentioned a local used bookstore that was going out of business. Books were being sold by the bag for $10 or $20, depending on size. The books in the store ranged from popular to things I had never heard of, and among them was a lone copy of The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.
This is a book that I have been wanting to read for a while. I have read sections. Analyzed individual chapters for writing workshops and classes, but I never sat down to read this entire book.
This book was published in 1990 and has been widely praised for being an “unparalleled Vietnam testament, a classic work of American literature, a profound study of men at war that illuminates the capacity, and the limits, of the human heart and soul.”
It’s hard to describe the plot of The Things They Carried in a few succinct sentences. Rather than being a story of a character, it’s more like an examination of memory. At times, the book feels like a stream of consciousness with no real chronology to it, just the memorable moments.
In fact, it seems less interested with the Vietnam War than it is in examining the war from different angles. I like that aspect of the book, I like when there are multiple pieces of a larger whole to look at.
It’s hard for me to pinpoint any favorite segment of this book. It’s very much a testament to a time and a certain experience. The writing is rich without being overly verbose, and at times it is graphic.
At times the book feels like a eulogy, remembering the deaths and those who are lost. Carrying them with you as life continues to go on.
There are two things that really intrigue me about this book.
The first is the narrator’s constant protestations that the book isn’t fact. I went into this book and after realizing that main character’s name is Tim, yes like the author, I thought I had mistaken this book for fiction.
As the book progresses, the author maintains that certain things aren’t true. He seems enamored with the idea of truth in war and will say that none of these things really happened.
The second is the narrator’s constant refrain of “I am forty-three years old and a writer now.” Like he has to mentally remind himself as he meditates through his memories of war that he’s not there anymore, and that his life as a soldier is in the past.
A couple weeks ago, the audiobook was one of Audible’s Daily Deals and I took the opportunity to purchase it. One of the things that drew me to the audiobook was the narrator.
I am familiar with Bryan Cranston from his work on Breaking Bad and there was something sublime hearing Walter White’s voice read out these words.
The low timbre of Cranston’s voice is the perfect accompaniment to O’Brien’s eloquent and provocative prose. He has a steady cadence that seems fitting for a soldier but still has inflection to draw you into certain points.
This book is very rich and although I am sure I was able to get a few strands, I think it is definitely something that could be listened to repeatedly, either as a whole or in sections.
FINAL RATING: 5 Stars
The Things They Carried is now available for purchase. You can purchase the Bryan Cranston audiobook via Audible. You can purchase a physical copy of the book through your local independent bookseller, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.