Best known for his fictional portrayal of the Vietnam War, Tim O'Brien is an American novelist and short story writer who has been compared to Ernest Hemingway, Stephen Crane, and Joseph Heller. The novels that established his reputation, Going after Cacciato(1978) and The things They Carried(1990), explore the horrors of war in a style that is precise and unexpecting, yet unbelievably realistic.
Besides the well-deserved guilt and shame and anguish invoked by the Vietnam War, Americans can also take rightful pride in the great national achievements. One was the anti-war movement of tens of millions of ordinary citizens, a movement in which Vietnam veterans and active duty soldiers eventually played a decisive role. The other major achievement is the literature produced by the war, a literature of which Vietnam veterans have become the formative creators.
Tim O'Brien has been involved in both of these. His contribution to the anti-war movement- writing anti-war editorials for his college newspaper and later ringing doorbells for Eugene McCarthy in 1968, had no great immediate effect, even on himself, for he then marched off to fight in the very war he considered "evil".
But his contribution to the literature of the war has been exceptional, partly because his own experience has led to an almost unbearable share of that American guilt and shame and anguish.
O'Brien served in Vietnam with the fifth Battalion, forty sixth infantry from January 1969 to March 1970. He patrolled some of the most active and brutal sites of the war and it definitely showed in the settings of his writings. I have read all of O'Brien's books, and "The Things They Carried" is my favorite one. He is a natural storyteller who can spin a tale with the rest of them.
The main theme is not that...