By Dalton Machholz
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is a collection of short stories following a fictional narrator named Tim O’Brien before, during, and after the Vietnam War. First published in 1990 by Houghton Mifflin the book contains 22 short stories. O’Brien himself served in the Vietnam War and following his return to the United States began work as reporter and intern at the Washington Post. It was here that O’Brien began his writing career publishing other books such as Northern Lights, Going After Cacciato, and A Nuclear Age just to name a few.
The Things They Carried is a collection of short stories featuring time before, during, and after the Vietnam War. While there is no clear chronological order to these stories, each possesses a quality in them that stands alone as well as assists the others. A prime example of this are the stories “Enemies” and “Friends”. Both revolve around two men of O’Brien’s platoon who are seen fighting and then seen making up. While they complete each other, both are able to stand independently on their own. A reader can easily read one, stop, then proceed to read the other at a different time.
My favorite story, which ties the theme of the book overall, is “How to Tell a True War Story”. In this particular tale O’Brien relates what story fellow soldier “Rat” Kiley tells him during their time on a mission. During this story-telling O’Brien explores the requirements of war literature. Citing how it can’t be believable, or if you feel uplifted by it then you can’t actually believe it. While at first this message is hard to accept the story told by Kiley and for that matter this book itself reflects this one message throughout.
While I find this collection interesting due to its historical value, there are plenty of other reasons to read this nationally acclaimed book. Some may find solace in the writing style of O’Brien or perhaps the philosophy of the Vietnam war will attract others. Nonetheless this is a must-read novel for any age-group as it addresses topics that have been forgotten or lost.
By Jolee Lindin
Gorilla, My Love is a collection of short stories written by Toni Cade Bambara. This collection was published in 1972 by Random House. Bambara is also the author of The Black Woman, Tales and Short Stories for Black Folk, and Junior Case Book on Racism.
Gorilla, My Love leans towards being a feminist collection, with a lot of the narrators being young girls. Throughout the collection Bambara indulges the audience in her female characters by giving them badass personalities and qualities. This includes more than just the narrators as well. Hazel is one of the narrators of the collection and she tells it how it is. One of the most memorable moments of Hazel’s narration is in the short story “Gorilla, My Love”. She emphasizes that if someone says something, they better mean it: “Cause if you say Gorilla, My Love, you suppose to mean it” (Bambara 170).
Another powerful female character, who isn’t a narrator, is Miss Moore from the short story “The Lesson”. Miss Moore is kind enough to take the children to different educational places to teach them different things. Although the children’s parents think Miss Moore is a little strange, they still allow their children to take these wonderful opportunities that Miss Moore presents to them. The children don’t always enjoy where they go, but Miss Moore doesn’t let the children get to her. She continues to use her patience to give the children a great experience.
Because female child narrators seem to be an ongoing theme throughout the collection there seems to be this idea of innocence, but also this feeling of tension between the generational gap throughout the collection. You see examples of both these things in the stories, “The Hammer Man”, “Happy Birthday”, and “Basement.” In “The Hammer Man” there is an incident between the narrator, a young girl, and Manny with the police. The narrator and Manny are at the park shooting hoops when the police come by and ask them, “Who unlocked the gate?” (Bambara 40). Although the narrator and Manny aren’t doing anything wrong the police try to get them to leave. However, the narrator stands up to the police saying, “this here’s a free country. So why don’t you give him back his ball” (Bambara 41). This shows the innocence of the narrator, but it also shows the tension between the generational gaps of the characters as well.
This was a great collection to read and I really enjoyed learning about the cultures of different time periods for different people. Using children as narrators was a risky but rewarding idea. I could really connect to the stories and put myself in the shoes of the narrators. It allowed me to see from a different perspective that I really enjoyed diving into. Although this story collection was “straight-up fiction,” the events that took place and the themes that were present seemed very realistic. They took you for a journey while also staying connected and true to the whole collection. I believe many high school students would enjoy this collection because of the funny but simple stories included within the collection. It is also very focused on the younger generation at this time and the innocence of younger kids to teenagers that kids now might be able to relate to.
By Taylor Hackbarth
Amy Hempel’s short story collection Reasons to Live was published in 1985 by Alfred A. Knopf INC. Reasons to live was the first short story collection that Amy Hempel has published, and she has published other collections like Tumble Home and The Dog of the Marriage. In the setup of this book, Amy Hempel has the stories in no particular order that I could find. All of the stories seemed to be random, and I do not believe that any of the stories are connected by characters. I do believe the stories are connected by the message each story leaves the reader with. In all of the stories, the meanings and messages of the stories are to show the main character’s reason to live. The stories also show the reason for the character’s actions.
One of my favorite stories in the book was the story “Pool Night”. This was my favorite story because I think it shows human nature very well. This story is about a flood that had taken everything from the main character and how she remembers it happening. I like this story because it shows how humans handle a situation in different ways. Some of the characters are sad, some of them are resigned, and some of the characters make the best out of the situation. One of my favorite lines from this story is the line describing the pictures of the character’s family: “They were faded, but the fugitive images remained. Emulsion on others had turned metallic bronze; the snapshots held deep tarnish, like a mirror.” I like this line because it does a wonderful job of describing the pictures and the scenes of her stories. This is just one example of how the author uses descriptions in her stories to help the audience understand the story better. People should read her writing because the stories help show different reasons people keep going. When I was a student, sometimes I just wanted to quit, but having a good reason to continue got me going again. This book can help people find these reasons.
By Emma Bloom
The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender, published in 1998, is a diverse collection of short stories that views love through different lenses: of a wife and a husband who was injured in the war, the ups and downs of young love, lasting love in elderly couples, and the struggle of a relationship under peculiar circumstances. The story itself is not the typical take on the classic love story, instead focusing on the difficult truths of each relationship, the reality of each one all the while with an element of the bizarre.
Aimee Bender’s works have been nationally recognized, being published in GQ, Harper’s, The Paris Review, and heard in This American Life. Her works earning credible awards, including the NY Times Notable Book award, SCIBA award, and the LA Times pick of the year. The Girl in the Flammable Skirt would be best suited for high school students and above, particularly those who are interested in romance stories.
A particular aspect of writing that Bender used often was the concept of the “crooked picture,” where the story begins in the middle of an event or dialogue, leaving the reader questioning and curious. The first line of the collection was from the story “The Rememberer,” and began with “my lover is experiencing reverse evolution.” The reader does not know why and what is causing this “reverse evolution” or even what exactly that could be in this case, pulling the reader deeper into the story with interest. Or the way Bender chose to open the short story “Skinless” with “Renny’s phone privileges being revoked when they discovered a swastika carved into his headboard.” Topics like these are not a typical way to begin and would most likely take the reader by surprise.
I deeply enjoyed Bender’s interpretation of love, where it wasn’t perfect and there was always a way that the lovers were different from each other. She was blunt in the reality and detail of each relationship but romanticized the uniqueness and its eccentricates.