Wow. What an astonishing book.
I had to read this book for school as part of our Post-Modernism unit, and it’s definitely… different in its format. This book isn’t linear, nor does it have a discernible plot (but hey, that’s post-modernism for you!). It’s more like memoirs from the Vietnam War than a story, per se.
So what really makes this book post-modernist, besides the plot thing not being a thing and the time period in which it’s written? Naturally, it’s the big question of post-modernism: What is real? The stories within the book all seem like memoirs, but if that were true, why would it be found in the fiction section of Barnes & Noble? And if it’s fiction, would Lieutenant Jimmy Cross be a symbol for Jesus Christ (JC… last name of Cross…)? But then why is a man named Jimmy Cross listed on the dedications page? Hmm…
When you go to Barnes & Noble (at least, the one I go to), there is a table labeled “Books That Make You Think”. This book is on that table, and for good reason. I remember sitting in my bed around 10pm and reading this on my kindle, finishing a chapter, and setting my kindle down only to stare at the wall. The Things They Carried has an enormous gravity to it, which is ironic given that in the very first chapter, Tim O’Brien states that the things they carried wasn’t all physical burden, but mental, emotional burden as well. That intangible burden is passed through the ink and pages and into the reader’s hands, shooting through their bodies and into their brains. Of course, those of us who were not in the war cannot possibly fully comprehend the immense metaphysical burden carried by those soldiers, but Tim O’Brien gives us the chance to catch a small glimpse of it–to hold it in our hands and test our metaphysical strength, ever asking what in the book is real. Did Mary Anne really go to Vietnam for her boyfriend? Is she even a real person, and if so, what became of her and the Greenies? Do the mountains in Vietnam really sing, or were the sounds those men heard the result of too many days doing nothing?
The Things They Carried is a must-read for everyone, in my opinion. It’s absolutely astonishing, and there’s nothing else like it.