Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tim O'Brien, Novelist

Tim O'Brien is an extraordinary writer and a very good story teller and he's succeeded big time and failed as well, but he's worth our attention.
by Charlie Leck

I mentioned in passing, in one of last week’s blogs, the novel by Tim O’Brien, In the Lake of the Woods. This author became very famous for his acclaimed and award-winning novel, The Things They Carried, which I would put on my list of the very important works of my generation.

Several friends (readers) emailed me, asking me about In Lake of the Woods, saying they’d never heard of it. I can only guess that it was not a big seller. Frankly, I don’t remember. And, I haven’t gone researching on the Internet to find out how it was received. I know I grabbed it in a bookstore the moment I saw it because of the impact his piece de resistance had on me. I found the book riveting and compelling. It held my attention throughout. I remember that it closed as mysteriously as it opened. It was one of those books that leaves you hanging, making you realize you’ve got to figure it out and supply the answers.

I’ll reproduce only one paragraph for you here:

“It took almost twenty minutes to cross the open water. This time there were no channels south. Directly ahead, the shoreline loomed up as a blunt, gently curving mass of rock and pines, a long green wall arcing out in front of her as far as she could see. Kathy cut back on the power, idling offshore, trying to settle on a proper course of action. Nothing sensible revealed itself. She gazed at the dense forest, then up at the sky. The facts seemed obvious. Lost and totally alone. And the physical universe had no opinion. Trees did not talk. No face behind the clouds. No natural laws, only nature. Which was the truth, she told herself, so she might as well get on with it.”

I remember picking up two additional novels by O'Brien just because of his earlier reputation and I was very disappointed in them: (1) Tomcat in Love and (2) July, July. You can go to O’Brien’s web page if you want, but I found it very disappointing and confusing – a poorly done web site.

The long and the short of this: You must read, if you have not, The Things They Carried. It is a profound work, but enormously gripping and readable. In the Lake of the Woods is extremely good and also gripping, though it makes your head spin from time to time with the mysteriousness of what is going on.

Works by O’Brien:

The Vietnam in Me
Tomcat in Love
July, July
The Things They Carried
In the Lake of the Woods
Nuclear Age
Going After Cacciato
Northern Lights
If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home

I’ve read all of these. The two I would recommend are still those in the first paragraph of this blog.


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