I’m not quite sure why it took me so long to read this book. I read the first chapter “The Things They Carried” for a short story class a few years back and really liked it. When my husband bought the book shortly after, I kept saying, “I’m going to read it this [insert break here].” Thanks to the Armchair Traveler Challenge I was finally able to get it read (even though I’m not sure Vietnam is a place I would like to visit for leisure).
The Things They Carried is more a collection of short fictions; while the characters remain the same throughout, most of the stories could stand on their own. Throughout the book, O’Brien explores the impact the Vietnam war had on a cadre of soldiers. The first story discusses the various things the soldiers carried while they were in Vietnam, but after finishing the book, I was struck by the things the soldiers carried with them after the war was over. Most of the war fiction I have read revolves around WWI, and I think this is my first book about the Vietnam War, so this book was a good introduction into the types of warfare and the psychological repercussions. O’Brien in the book talks about killing another human, the inability to discuss the war with others, being drafted rather than signing up, losing members of the platoon in battle and sometimes not in battle.
What was really interesting to me, and at times a little distracting, was the memoir-ish characteristics of the book. While the book is fiction, O’Brien sometimes pulls from his own experiences and even inserts himself as a character in the novel. Because of this, it was difficult sometimes to tell the difference between what was real and what wasn’t. I think that O’Brien’s point is that it doesn’t matter. If these things didn’t happen to him, they probably happened to someone during this war. He acknowledges his blurred lines between reality and fiction in his chapter, “Good Form.” Other than the fact that he was a soldier in Vietnam, he notes “Almost everything else is invented.” Further, “story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth” (179). I liked this book and I would certainly recommend it.