I’ve never read a book which dealt with the Vietnam war so The Things they Carried represents a first time. It’s also the second short story collection featured in this list and I also fared much better than the previous collection ( Padgett Powell’s Typical)
In these 21 stories O’Brien captures the madness of war perfectly, for example the soldier who wears his girlfriend’s pantyhose on his neck or the soldier who is deported to Japan due to insanity. It’s all there. Sometimes the stories are mildly humorous and some are tragic. However what really makes this interesting are the literary techniques used.
The first one is that O’Brien will first briefly mention a character’s foibles in one story and then expand on it in the next. There is a lot of repetition of detail (such as the man O’Brien kills) but these enhance the reading experience and unify all the stories. By the end you get the feeling that you have read a full novel.
The other technique is the blurring between fact and fantasy. O’Brien states these stories are not true and there are some stories dedicated to what a true war story is made up of. Honestly though, the descriptions are so life-like I’m bound to think otherwise.
A great book? yes and an excellent primer for those who haven’t read anything about the Vietnam War as well.