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Friday, June 23, 2006

Tim O'Brien and the Haditha connection

In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien

Okay, I have been exceptionally luck with my recent reads, but it doesn’t get any better than this. O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is perhaps the most exceptional book I have ever read. Remember what I said about Kroetsch’s A Likely Story, TheThings They Carried is all about story, the stories of war and the stories of people engaged in war. It was called a novel but in truth is unlike any other novel you have ever read. Fiction ran into non-fiction and something elusive called ‘the truth’ came out the other side. Like I mentioned in an earlier post (Recent Reads) Kroetsch’s A Likely Story. The Things They Carried is the finest instructional book on writing stories you could ever wish for. I am serious, give up those ridiculous writing exercises. They will leave you with muscles in all the wrong places.

In the Lake of the Woods is devastating. Based like Welsh above on a real incident, in this case the infamous My Lai atrocity during the Vietnam war, O’ Brien traces the harrowing effects of war actions upon a human being. Indeed, O’Brien even compares the events of that dreadful day to similar massacres on Indian villages by US and British soldiers. Currently in Iraq we have another similar atrocity, Haditha.

But listen to O'Brien. No scapegoats here. No few bad apples in a barrel. No Agru Garib. People enter into unimaginable circumstances, commit and witness things unbearable and yet have to live with the consequences. There are no easy conclusions and O’Brien provides none. A mixture of prose, interview, evidence, footnotes advances the narrative exploration of moral torment.

John Wade goes to the Lake of the Woods with his wife Kathy after the past catches up with him. Kathy disappears. We lose ourselves in the ensuing search for truth, a methodical search that is finally too much to bear. It is simply not possible to close this book. Once read, you have to continue to live out your life within its troubling aftermath.

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