I read The Things They Carried for a college course on Banned and Challenged Literature and wasn’t sure what to expect. I assumed it would be a book of war stories that I’d never relate to and might even find gruesome. What I found in my reading was a book of short stories that toe the line between fact and fiction, each one more compelling and honest than the one before. From the very first story in the book I was drawn into a world I knew existed but could never have imagined and was fully invested in each and every character introduced.
The author writes the stories from the perspective of a narrator by the same name and leaves you wondering what portions of the book are based on reality and what parts are filled in by the author’s own imagination and faulty memories of his time serving in the Vietnam War. He says it best himself:
“By telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others. You start sometimes with an incident that truly happened, like the night in the shit field, and you carry it forward by inventing incidents that did not in fact occur but that nonetheless help to clarify and explain” (O’Brien 152).
In the end it is not the veracity of each tale that matters, but the extreme sentiment that emerges. Whether or not each detail is absolute truth begins not to matter as much as the overall feeling that the book brings on. The stories range from heart-wrenching tales of lost comrades and wounded soldiers to lighthearted moments of levity between friends. Each one is vivid and descriptive and carefully paints the picture of life as a soldier in the Vietnam War.
The Things They Carried is a must-read book. Growing up so far after the Vietnam War I have only what the history books tell me, but this book does a fine job of filling in the details in a very honest and compelling manner.