Review: The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried
By Tim O’Brien
Houghton Mifflin, Hardcover, 9780547391175, March 2010, 233pp.

The Short of It:

When it comes to storytelling, memory alone can be unreliable.

The Rest of It:

From Indiebound:

Depicting the men of Alpha Company Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and the character Tim O Brien, who survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three the stories in The Things They Carried opened our eyes to the nature of war in a way we will never forget.

At times, this collection felt very real to me. O’Brien served in Vietnam so the level of detail included in each story really gives you a sense of what it was like there, but there are also some implausible things that take place that remind you that it is indeed a work of fiction. Nevertheless, as a book club read it was an interesting book to discuss.

Memory. How important it is in telling stories like these? Does it really matter if the stories were based on actual events? In this case, no. If O’Brien’s purpose was to give us an idea of what it was like to be on the lines, then I’d say that the author succeeded. The details are grisly and O’Brien doesn’t hold back when sharing the cruel side of human nature. A couple of the stories feature animal cruelty that nearly all of us had a tough time getting through. Overall, the horrors of war were made very clear.

I do not enjoy war stories (at all) but I did find this book to be very readable and it was an excellent book to discuss with a group.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

17 thoughts on “Review: The Things They Carried”

  1. I remember reading this one in high school ( so many moons ago ) and really enjoying the strength of the writing. Definitely a good book to discuss.

    By the by, I see you are reading the Murakami. I finished it a month ago. I remembered some of the stories, but still enjoyed re-reading them. Can’t help but love his writing 🙂

      1. It IS marketed that way. :-/ The indiebound description definitely gives the impression that all the stories are new. If not, that’s disappointing, I’ll still buy the volume for what IS new though.

  2. This is one of my favorite books about the Vietnam War. He plays a lot with memory in it, particularly the stories. It is a tough read, but I think war is tough to experience. I hope you had a great discussion.

    1. It was a good discussion and we talked about the role of memory quite a bit. I don’t think anyone on the lines could ever forget the horrors of that war. Plus, most of the men fighting were so young. Not quite men yet.

  3. Vance read this book in high school and urged me to read it. I didn’t get to it until a few years ago and it blew me away. Vance remembered it well enough that we were able to have a good discussion about it too.

    1. That’s so cool that you were able to discuss it years later. This was actually my second time reading it. I don’t know what was going on when I read it the first time but I didn’t remember any of it.

    1. True. Although I did worry at first that the entire book was going to contain ALL the things they carried (literally) as referenced in that first chapter. That Mary Anne story was pretty interesting 😉

  4. I have picked this book up twice to read it over the years and didn’t get very far either time. I feel like it’s one of those books I SHOULD read, but just can’t.

  5. A few of my favorites this year are: This Is How It Always Is by Valerie Frankel, The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel and The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak.

  6. I know I listened to this one, and usually that means I will retain the story much better than when I read it. I’ll be damned if I can remember much about it though. That makes me feel guilty.

  7. Hello! I read this book a few years back in college. It was good to read in a class and discuss. As well as hear the lecture on it. I have been affected by the reading of this book for a long time. It was an opening up to my awareness of …. well so much. And it was nice to read your thoughts on it as well.

  8. I’m not much of a war story reader, either; but I was so glad I’d been convinced to read this one.

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