The Things They Carried
The Things They Carried
Broadway, Paperback, 9780767902892, 272pp.
Publication Date: December 29, 1998
One of the first questions people ask about The Things They Carried is this: Is it a novel, or a collection of short stories? The title page refers to the book simply as "a work of fiction," defying the conscientious reader's need to categorize this masterpiece. It is both: a collection of interrelated short pieces which ultimately reads with the dramatic force and tension of a novel. Yet each one of the twenty-two short pieces is written with such care, emotional content, and prosaic precision that it could stand on its own.
The Things They Carried depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and of course, the character Tim O'Brien who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three. They battle the enemy (or maybe more the idea of the enemy), and occasionally each other. In their relationships we see their isolation and loneliness, their rage and fear. They miss their families, their girlfriends and buddies; they miss the lives they left back home. Yet they find sympathy and kindness for strangers (the old man who leads them unscathed through the mine field, the girl who grieves while she dances), and love for each other, because in Vietnam they are the only family they have. We hear the voices of the men and build images upon their dialogue. The way they tell stories about others, we hear them telling stories about themselves.
With the creative verve of the greatest fiction and the intimacy of a searing autobiography, The Things They Carried is a testament to the men who risked their lives in America's most controversial war. It is also a mirror held up to the frailty of humanity. Ultimately The Things They Carried and its myriad protagonists call to order the courage, determination, and luck we all need to survive.
A native of Worthington, Minnesota, Tim O'Brien graduated in 1968 from Macalester College in St. Paul. He served as a foot soldier in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970, after which he pursued graduate studies in Government at Harvard University, then later worked as a national affairs reporter for the Washington Post. He now lives in Massachusetts.
Other books by Tim O'Brien include If I Die in a Combat Zone Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, Going After Cacciato, Northern Lights, The Nuclear Age, and In the Lake of the Woods. Going After Cacciato won the National Book Award in 1979. In the Lake of the Woods won the James Fenimore Cooper Prize from the society of American Historians and was selected as the best novel of 1994 by Time magazine. His latest novel, Tomcat in Love (1998), is published by Broadway Books, a division of Random House.
"I've got to make you read this book.... In a world filled too often with numbness, or shifting values, these stories shine in a strange and opposite direction, moving against the flow, illuminating life's wonder."
--Rick Bass, The Dallas Morning News
"The Things They Carried is more than 'another' book about Vietnam.... It is a master stroke of form and imagery.... The Things They Carried is about life, about men who [fight] and die, about buddies, and about a lost innocence that might be recaptured through the memory of stories. O'Brien tells us these stories because he must. He tells them as they have never been told before."