The Things They Carried

By: Tim O’Brien
Fiction
1990
Rating: 4.5/5

The Things They Carried

Yeesh.

This book was r-o-u-g-h rough.

I had never heard of The Things They Carried, but the librarian who scanned it out for me surely had. “It’s really good, but really heavy.” I knew from that point that this was going to be a hard read, and I wasn’t wrong. It’s apparently a well-taught and well-known book, but somehow it slipped past my education.

This book is a collection of short stories, but they are so intertwined and should certainly be read in sequence. It’s a war book, a Vietnam War book, to be specific. A war book heavily inspired by O’Brien’s experience in Vietnam. So yeah. It’s rough.

The first story sold me. Absolutely sold. It’s the eponymous story and can seem, at times, a little banal, a little cheesy, but it’s good stuff. O’Brien runs through a list of the literal things they carried as they trekked across Vietnam, and the reasons why. It’s exactly as heart-tuggingly sad as you might imagine.

I read this entire book on one flight. Talk about emotional investment.

And I came back home so excited to talk about it, and then a friend of mine who used to teach collegiate English sighed and said, “Ugh, that’s the book all of the male teachers used to get guys to connect. It’s overrated.”

Shot to the heart.

So for a while I was embarrassed about how much I liked this book. Is it too cliche? Are the themes inherent in any book about the Vietnam War too easy to tug the heartstrings?

And then I decided I didn’t care. This is a good book, plain and simple.

Really good, but really heavy.

 

*****

 

Here are some similar books:

(for more war books)

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

(for more by O’Brien)

Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien

If I Die In a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home by Tim O’Brien

In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien

Tomcat In Love by Tim O’Brien

 

Coming up:

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Rose Harbor In Bloom by Debbie Macomber

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