The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried
by Tim O’Brien
1990 – 236 pages – Kindle
Rating – 9

I was very hesitant to read this book – I’m allergic to war books but sometimes,  if they don’t get too heavy into man’s impersonal, industrialized and organized atrocities to man I can do them okay.   This one gets pretty gory but it’s about individuals and the power of story-telling which are okay as themes.  And I was so involved in the Vietnam war – the anti-war movement,  knowing guys who went or who stayed –  it gets pretty heavy still.

It’s just hard for me to read about it  so this is a totally personal and subjective response.

Okay?   I didn’t  like it.  It’s not about the reality of the war – it’s about the emotional truth of the war which, imo, is often a lot of garbage.  A person can scream rape because it feels like it when you get an unwanted kiss –  but that’s not rape.  So it is with this book.    So what?  In the book the mud felt like shit therefore we’ll say it was shit and that will get the emotional experience across to the reader and therefore the reality?  Meanwhile we’ll call the book fiction and get out of the way of the flack.  C’mon – give me the material reality and I’ll supply the emotion for that.  Give the very real guys who really died over there a little real respect.

So I’ve decided that this book is entirely fiction,  make-believe – there’s  not a scintilla of literal truth in the thing except I understand O’Brien did fight in Vietnam.

So the fictionality of it aside,  it’s well written,  although emotionally manipulative,  and I did enjoy the structure of the interrelated stories – kind of like memory sometimes goes back and forth between related events or people.   I understand intellectually why it won the awards and accolades it did.  It still pains me to read it.  Why?

In the book the unnamed 1st person is suprised to get a draft notice.  Yeah,  really?  How surprised were you?  That sounds like some serious denial because in 1968 all males who weren’t classified as 4F or something were eligible and had lottery numbers and a lot of them were  likely to get drafted.  O’Brien was educated, interested, semi-involved – and he was surprised?   Okay – let’s say denial in this book starts early.

Good points about feeling like a coward for going back home and then to Nam.  I suppose it might really feel like that to go against your conscience for the sake of your pride – but I don’t see as he had other plans – except for the slaughterhouse (which I only semi-believe).  Was he planning to go to grad school?  What kind of “life” was he “walking away from” if he went to Canada or Vietnam, either one?

So Vietnam is crazy but what’s in this book is likely to be half bull-shit – emotional truth and all that,  told to kill boredom and to impress each other with crazy stories. So I’ll just assume that the Vietnam war was basically fiction – that my friends really died in fiction because that fool war was so confused and messed up there is no reality to it at all anyway.  So what?

Parts are deliberately very much like Heart of Darkness:
“On a post at the rear of the hootch was the decayed head of a large black leopard; strips of yellow-brown skin dangled from the overhead rafters. And bones. Stacks of bones—all kinds.  (Kindle Locations 1333-1335).”
So okay – that’s been done before, too –  see Apocalypse Now.   Then there’s the myth of Mary Ann –  truth vs fiction.  oh my –

There are two kinds of truth – material and emotional.   Myth is made of emotional truth and it’s valuable in it’s own sphere – material truth is verifiable, repeatable truth and it’s valuable in it’s own sphere.  To mix them – to arrest someone on the basis of an emotional truth of someone is to seriously misuse both types.   I’m far better with material truth than with emotional truth.   Emotional truth is usually used  because someone somewhere (my life, a book,  propaganda machines) wants to manipulate my ideas.  They want to inflate the reality of the material truth by adding some powerful words.  (But it’s just  words so words aren’t important?  –  I get very annoyed with this whole argument defending verbal manipulation.)

All that said,  this very well be the best book ever written about the Vietnam experience – or the myth of the Vietnam experience – aka Apocalypse Now.

All that said,  what’s my rating –  it was mixed and a ? up there for a long time.  Finally,  a couple weeks later (4/13)  I decided stories are supposed to be about emotional truths (but I’m not sure that’s what this is) and gave it a 9.   It’s a good book – Vietnam was crazy and pissed me off  –  maybe that’s what the book conveyed to me.

page 110  Montagnards
http://www.cal.org/co/montagnards/vlife.html

The chapter called “Church” is totally wonderful.  p. 112

p. 112 –  Batangan Peninsula
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batangan_Peninsula

p.  118 –  Quang Ngai
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quang_Ngai

p. 118 –  Tran Hung Dao
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tran_Hung_Dao

p. 119 – Trung sisters
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trung_sisters

p. 119 – Le Loi
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Loi

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