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.