Exhibit 1.8.3

In the Lake of the Woods


In the Lake of the Woods


There might not be a novelist I enjoy more but think about less than Tim O’Brien. Going After Cacciato is one of my favorites, but I can’t claim to have ever once gone back and studied its structure–though it’s brilliant–or typed its sentences–though they’re beautiful–or thought of it as the kind of book I’d aspire to write–though I suppose I would.

Somehow O’Brien only seems to exist for me as a reader which is refreshing, really. It’s a better, less selfish relationship than I feel like I have with Didion or Murakami or Nabokov. Those are writers I’d like to be when drunk on egotism or alcohol. O’Brien is a writer I’d like to read, and the only other one I can think of whose impact seems so perfectly quarantined from my own work is, not coincidentally, Joseph Heller.

It’s the war, of course. It’s always the war with O’Brien and you could blame him for it if he weren’t so damn compelling at using it as a way to show how there’s no real peace. O’Brien’s characters are haunted by half-memories and horrors, none more than the protagonist of In the Lake of the Woods which is not our would-be senator but the writer trying to reconstruct what’s happened. It’s O’Brien at his most personal and clever in these footnotes and hypotheses, never letting us forget that when we’re talking about Vietnam we’re talking about many narratives, only some of which even get told and almost none of which agree. Truth isn’t a concept O’Brien seems to believe in and thank god.

Because instead we get this, a mystery without a solution and a history still being fought over as the years fade (by none more than those who were there). There’s this confused swirling around the My Lai atrocity that runs round the novel and comes to a head with the writer’s realization that even he doesn’t even remember what he remembers of the war, or what has come from stories and movies, or what he’s just imagined. The only thing he knows is that “My own war does not belong to me.”, making the book, like all of O’Brien’s fiction about the war, a kind of reclamation from the army, the media, and, most of all, the trauma.

An impossible one, of course. Excepting maybe Oliver Stone, no one has done more to shape narratives about the war than O’Brien, and if he can’t make sense of it, no one can. So it’s no accident that his novels are magical and contradicting and solutionless. It’s a reclamation, I guess, but one mostly interested in making the case that the Vietnam soldier–maybe all soldiers–are the quintessential post-modern subjects.

That seems like more than enough for one writer to take on, and, while it’s terrible that anyone should have to follow in O’Brien’s bootsteps, this being the world, some surely will. We can only hope they hold onto as much humanity and imagination after so much violence set against those very things.


Comment / Posted in 2013, Fiction, Wars

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