Good thing this is subtitled ‘A work of fiction’ because it is about a guy named Tim in his 40s who has been in a war and written a book called Going After Cacciato. *side-eyes the real Tim O’Brien, about whom ditto* THIS is how you fictionalize non-fiction, guys. Freys and Mortensons, take note! You make it about the impossibility of telling war stories in the first place, about how, in a sense, all war stories are true and yet none of them are true.
And then you say things like ‘A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie.’ Good times ahead, amirite?
True war stories are awful because war is awful and The Things They Carried is also sort of awful because war is awful. It is built of little segments, cycled back and gone over again to in an attempt to make sense of them. Stories are shuffled with different characters playing the parts, and then put back together to see if they look better that way.
And it is eviscerating, all these young men doing such normal and such hideous things. One soldier adopts an orphan puppy and then another blows the puppy up. ‘What’s everybody so upset about?…I mean, Christ, I’m just a boy.’
It is a difficult read, and a weirdly detached read, and a very good read if you can say that about something so aching. And Important Read, is maybe more apt.