The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Cover via Goodreads.

Cover via Goodreads.

Rating: 5/5 stars.

As a pacifist, I did not expect to love The Things They Carried – a book comprised of short stories centered on the Vietnam War. However, Tim O’Brien’s magnificent writing won me over quicker than I could say “callipygous.” This book isn’t just about the brutality of war, it’s about the human condition, the emotions that entrench us in times of desperation and loss. There isn’t much more I can contribute concerning the book that hasn’t been said so here are a few of my favorite passages from it.

“Even in the deep bush, where you could die any number of ways, the war was nakedly and aggressively boring. But it was a strange boredom. It was boredom with a twist, the kind of boredom that caused stomach disorders. You’d be sitting at the top of a high hill, the flat paddies stretching out below, and the day would be calm and utterly vacant, and you’d feel the boredom dripping inside of you like a faucet, except it wasn’t water, it was a sort of acid, and with each little droplet you’d feel the stuff eating away at important organs. You’d try to relax. You’d uncurl your fists and let your thoughts go. Well, you’d think, this isn’t so bad. And right then you’d hear gunfire behind you and your nuts would fly up into your throat and you’d be squealing pig squeals. That kind of boredom.” (O’Brien, p 34)

“Courage, I seemed to think, comes to us in finite quantities, like an inheritance, and by being frugal and stashing it away and letting it earn interest, we steadily increase our moral capital in preparation for that day when the account must be drawn down. It was a comforting theory. It dispensed with all those bothersome little acts of daily courage; it offered hope and grace to the repetitive coward; it justified the past while amortizing the future.” (O’Brien, p 40)

“For Mary Anne Bell, it seemed, Vietnam had the effect of a powerful drug: that mix of unnamed terror and unnamed pleasure that comes as the needle slips in and you know you’re risking something. The endorphins start to flow, and the adrenaline, and you hold your breath and creep quietly through the moonlight nightscapes; you become intimate with danger; you’re in touch with the far side of yourself, as though it’s another hemisphere, and you want to string it out and go wherever the trip takes you and be host to all the possibilities inside yourself.” (O’Brien, p 144)



Filed under 5 stars, Book Reviews, Books

13 responses to “The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

  1. Reblogged this on Bookbilly and commented:
    I read this in high school and it floored me. I always teach the first chapter in my Comp II classes.

  2. I started this one night when I couldn’t fall asleep and finished it all in one setting. Then I wrote a long letter to the friend who recommended it to me. It’s a stunning book, worth re-reading. In addition to what you wrote above, I think it’s also about telling true (?) war stories.

    • That’s wonderful, you must’ve really liked it to write that letter! Also, I agree that it’s worth rereading, I’ll have to examine it again in college or later on in life. I wonder which stories were true and which weren’t… several other readers probably ponder this too. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Brittany

    This was a part of the required reading for AP English at the junior level. I must say the subject of the book turned me off at first but as you mentioned O’Brien’s style of writing made me keep turning the pages. It’s the greatest display of raw human emotion I’ve ever read in a novel.

    • It’s comforting to know i wasn’t the only one who shied away from it at first – I’m glad you enjoyed the depth of emotion in the novel as much as I did! Thanks for reading and commenting Brittany. (:

  4. I first encountered this book in a short story class during college. I reread it a few years ago and still was amazed at this story telling ability. The power of seeing war humanized and the “true” stories he tells are just fascinating.

    • I agree. For me, this wasn’t so much a book about war as it was a book about humans, and how war can lead to dehumanization as well as more positive consequences. The “true” stories lend a nice touch to the novel too. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. Nice review! I totally believe the same thing. It truly is more about the human experience than the Vietnam War. The true main topic is what made me enjoy the book so much more!

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