T h e T h i n g s T h e y Carried

Tim O'Brien

Acclaim for The Things They Carried

'With The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien adds his second title to the short list of essential fiction about Vietnam. As he did in his novel Going After Cacciato, which won a National Book Award, he captures the war's pulsating rhythms and nerve-racking dangers. . . . High up on the list of best fiction about any war ... A stunning performance. The overall effect of these original tales is devastating.' Robert B. Harris, New York Times Book Review 'In prose that combines the sharp, unsentimental rhythms of Hemingway with gentler, more lyrical descriptions, Mr. O'Brien gives the reader a shockingly visceral sense of what it felt like to tramp through a booby-trapped jungle, carrying 20 pounds of supplies, 14 pounds of ammunition, along with radios, machine guns, assault rifles and grenades. . . . With The Things They Carried, Mr. O'Brien has written a vital, important book—a book that matters not only to the reader interested in Vietnam, but to anyone interested in the craft of writing as well.' Michiko Kakutani, New York Times 'When Going After Cacciato appeared out of nowhere to win the 1979 National Book Award, it seemed to many, myself included, that no finer war fiction had, as of then, been written in the closing half of the 20th century—or was likely to be in the remaining years to come. The Things They Carried disposes of that prediction. . . . Tim O'Brien is the best American writer of his generation.' Tom Dowling, San Francisco Examiner 'The integrity of a novel and the immediacy of an autobiography . . . O'Brien's absorbing narrative moves in circles; events are recalled and retold again and again, giving us a deep sense of the fluidity of truth and the dance of memory.' —The New Yorker 'Rendered with an evocative, quiet precision, not equaled in the imaginative literature of the American war in Vietnam. It is as though a Thucydides had descended from grand politique and strategy to the calm dissection of the quotidian effects of war. . . . O'Brien has it just right.' Washington Post 'Powerful. . . Composed in the same lean, vigorous style as his earlier books, The Things They Carried adds up to a captivating account of the experiences of an infantry company in Vietnam. . . . Evocative and haunting, the raw force of confession.' —Wall Street Journal 'O'Brien's meditations—on war and memory, on darkness and light— suffuses the entire work with a kind of poetic form, making for a highly original, fully realized novel. . . . Beautifully honest. . . This book is persuasive in its desperate hope that stories can save us.' —Publishers Weekly 'O'Brien has written a book so searing and immediate you can almost hear the choppers in the background. Drenched in irony and purple-haze napalm, the Vietnam narrative has almost been forced to produce a new kind of war literature. The Things They Carried is an extraordinary contribution to that class of fiction. . . . O'Brien's passion and memory may have been his torment all these years, but they have also been his gift. . . . The Things They Carried leaves third-degree burns. Between its rhythmic brilliance and its exquisite rendering of memory—the slant of sunlight in the midst of war, the look on a man's face as he steps on a mine—this is prose headed for the nerve center of what was Vietnam.' — Gail Caldwell, Boston Globe 'The best of these stories—and none is written with less than the sharp edge of a honed vision—are memory as prophecy. They tell us not where we were but where we are, and perhaps where we will be. ... It is an ultimate, indelible image of war in our time, and in time to come.' Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times 'Simply marvelous ... A striking sequence of stories that twist and turn and bounce off each other . . . O'Brien has invented a tone of voice precisely suited to this war: it conveys a risky load of sentiment kept in check by both a chaste prose and a fair amount of comedy. . . . Wars seldom produce good short stories, but two or three of these seem as good as any short stories written about any war. . . . Immensely affecting.' —Peter S. Prescott, Newsweek 'The Things They Carried is as good as any piece of literature can get. . . . The line between fiction and fact is beautifully, permanently blurred. It is the perfect approach to this sort of material, and O'Brien does it with vast skill and grace. ... It is controlled and wild, deep and tough, perceptive and shrewd. I salute the man who wrote it.' Asa Baber, Chicago Sun-Times 'Consummate artistry ... A strongly unified book, a series of glimpses, through different facets, of a single, mysterious, deadly stone . . . O'Brien blends diverse incidents, voices, and genres, indelibly rendering the nightmarish impact of the Vietnam experience.' Andy Solomon, Philadelphia Inquirer 'O'Brien has brought us another remarkable piece of work . . . The stories have a specificity of observed physical detail that makes them seem a model of the realist's art. . . . What finally distinguishes The Things They Carried is O'Brien's understanding of the nature of memory.' William Robertson, Miami Herald 'This is writing so powerful that it steals your breath. ... It perfectly captures the moral confusion that is the legacy of the Vietnam War. . . . The Things They Carried is about more than war, of course. It is about the human heart and emotional baggage and loyalty and love. It is about the difference between 'truth' and 'reality.' It is about death—and life. It is successful on every level.' Milwaukee Journal 'O'Brien's stunning new book of linked stories, The Things They Carried, is about the power of the imagination. . . . I've read all five of O'Brien's books with admiration that sometimes verges on awe. Nobody else can make me feel, as his three Vietnam books have, what I imagine to have been the reality of that war.' Robert Wilson, USA Today 'I've got to make you read this book. ... A certain panic arises in me. In trying to review a book as precious as The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, there is the nightmare fear of saying the wrong thing—of not getting the book's wonder across to you fairly—and of sounding merely zealous, fanatical, and hence to be dismissed. If I can't get you to go out and buy this book, then I've failed you. ... In a world filled too often with numbness, or shifting values, these stories shine in a strange and opposite direction, moving against the flow, illuminating life's wonder, life's tenuousness, life's importance.' Rick Bass, Dallas Morning News 'O'Brien has unmistakably forged one of the most persuasive works of any kind to arise out of any war.' Hartford Courant 'O'Brien succeeds as well as any writer in conveying the free-fall sensation of fear and the surrealism of combat.' Time 'It's a marvelous and chilling book, and something totally new in fiction. A dramatic redefinition of fiction itself, maybe. It will probably be a bestseller and a movie, and deserves to be. It will be nominated for prizes, but I wonder if any prize will do it justice. Maybe a silver star for telling the truth that never happened, passionately, gracefully.' Charlotte Observer published, in different form, in The Quarterly. 'The Things They Carried appeared in The Best American Short Stones 1987. 'Speaking of Courage' and 'The Ghost Soldiers' appeared in Prize Stones The O Henry Awards (1978 and 1982). 'On the Rainy River' first appeared in Playboy The author wishes to thank the editors of those publications and to express gratitude for support received from the National Endowment for the Arts. This book is lovingly dedicated to the men of Alpha Company, and in particular to Jimmy Cross, Norman Bowker, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Henry Dobbins, and Kiowa. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS My thanks to Erik Hansen, Rust Hills, Camille Hykes, Seymour Lawrence, Andy McKillop, Ivan Nabokov, Les Ramirez, and, above all, to Ann O'Brien. CONTENTS The Things They Carried Love Spin On the Rainy River Enemies Friends How to Tell a True War Story The Dentist Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong Stockings Church The Man I Killed Ambush done something brave. He should've carried her up the stairs to her room and tied her to the bed and touched that left knee all night long. He should've risked it. Whenever he looked at the photographs, he thought of new things he should've done. What they carried was partly a function of rank, partly of field specialty. As a first lieutenant and platoon leader, Jimmy Cross carried a compass, maps, code books, binoculars, and a .45-caliber pistol that weighed 2.9 pounds fully loaded. He carried a strobe light and the responsibility for the lives of his men. As an RTO, Mitchell Sanders carried the PRC-25 radio, a killer, 26 pounds with its battery. As a medic, Rat Kiley carried a canvas satchel filled with morphine and plasma and malaria tablets and surgical tape and comic books and all the things a medic must carry, including M&M's for especially bad wounds, for a total weight of nearly 20 pounds. As a big man, therefore a machine gunner, Henry Dobbins carried the M-60, which weighed 23 pounds unloaded, but which was almost always loaded. In addition, Dobbins carried between 10 and 15 pounds of ammunition draped in belts across his chest and shoulders. As PFCs or Spec 4s, most of them were common grunts and carried the standard M-16 gas-operated assault rifle. The weapon weighed 7.5 pounds unloaded, 8.2 pounds with its full 20-round magazine. Depending on numerous factors, such as topography and psychology, the riflemen carried anywhere from 12 to 20 magazines, usually in cloth bandoliers, adding on another 8.4 pounds at minimum, 14 pounds at maximum. When it was available, they also carried M-16 maintenance gear—rods and steel brushes and swabs and tubes of LSA oil—all of which weighed about a pound. Among the grunts, some carried the M-79 grenade launcher, 5.9 pounds unloaded, a reasonably light weapon except for the ammunition, which was heavy. A single round weighed 10 ounces. The typical load was 25 rounds. But Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried 34 rounds when he was shot and killed outside Than Khe, and he went down under an exceptional burden, more than 20 pounds of ammunition, plus the flak jacket and helmet and rations and water and toilet paper and tranquilizers and all the rest, plus the unweighed fear. He was dead weight. There was no twitching or flopping. Kiowa, who saw it happen, said it was like watching a rock fall, or a big sandbag or waist over a small boulder, the top of his head on the ground, his arms rigid, the eyes squinting in concentration as if he were about to perform a handstand or somersault. It was my worst day at the war. For three hours we carried the bodies down the mountain to a clearing alongside a narrow dirt road. We had lunch there, then a truck pulled up, and we worked in two-man teams to load the truck. I remember swinging the bodies up. Mitchell Sanders took a man's feet, I took the arms, and we counted to three, working up momentum, and then we tossed the body high and watched it bounce and come to rest among the other bodies. The dead had been dead for more than a day. They were all badly bloated. Their clothing was stretched tight like sausage skins, and when we picked them up, some made sharp burping sounds as the gases were released. They were heavy. Their feet were bluish green and cold. The smell was terrible. At one point Mitchell Sanders looked at me and said, 'Hey, man, I just realized something.' 'What?' He wiped his eyes and spoke very quietly, as if awed by his own wisdom. 'Death sucks,' he said. Lying in bed at night, I made up elaborate stories to bring Linda alive in my sleep. I invented my own dreams. It sounds impossible, I know, but I did it. I'd picture somebody's birthday party—a crowded room, I'd think, and a big chocolate cake with pink candles—and then soon I'd be dreaming it, and after a while Linda would show up, as I knew she would, and in the dream we'd look at each other and not talk much, because we were shy, but then later I'd walk her home and we'd sit on her front steps and stare at the dark and just be together. She'd say amazing things sometimes. 'Once you're alive,' she'd say, 'you can't ever be dead.' Or she'd say: 'Do I look dead?' It was a kind of self-hypnosis. Partly willpower, partly faith, which is how stories arrive. But back then it felt like a miracle. My dreams had become a secret meeting place, and in the weeks after she died I couldn't wait to fall asleep at night. I began going to bed earlier and earlier, sometimes even in bright daylight. My mother, I remember, finally asked about it at breakfast one morning. 'Timmy, what's wrong ?' she said, but all I could do was shrug and say, 'Nothing. I just need sleep, that's all.' I didn't dare tell the truth. It was embarrassing, I suppose, but it was also a precious secret, like a magic trick, where if I tried to explain it, or even talk about it, the thrill and mystery would be gone. I didn't want to lose Linda. She was dead. I understood that. After all, I'd seen her body, and yet even as a nine-year-old I had begun to practice the magic of stories. Some I just dreamed up. Others I wrote down—the scenes and dialogue. And at nighttime I'd slide into sleep knowing that Linda would be there waiting for me. Once, I remember, we went ice skating late at night, tracing loops and circles under yellow floodlights. Later we sat by a wood stove in the warming house, all alone, and after a while I asked her what it was like to be dead. Apparently Linda thought it was a silly question. She smiled and said, 'Do I look dead?' I told her no, she looked terrific. I waited a moment, then asked again, and Linda made a soft little sigh. I could smell our wool mittens drying on the stove. For a few seconds she was quiet. 'Well, right now,' she said, 'I'm not dead. But when I am, it's like ... I don't know, I guess it's like being inside a book that nobody's reading.' 'A book?' I said. 'An old one. It's up on a library shelf, so you're safe and everything, but the book hasn't been checked out for a long, long time. All you can do is wait. Just hope somebody'll pick it up and start reading.' Linda smiled at me. 'Anyhow, it's not so bad,' she said. 'I mean, when you're dead, you just have to be yourself.' She stood up and put on her red stocking cap. 'This is stupid. Let's go skate some more.' So I followed her down to the frozen pond. It was late, and nobody else was there, and we held hands and skated almost all night under the yellow lights. And then it becomes 1990. I'm forty-three years old, and a writer now, still dreaming Linda alive in exactly the same way. She's not the embodied Linda; she's mostly made up, with a new identity and a new name, like the man who never was. Her real name doesn't matter. She was nine years old. I loved her and then she died. And yet right here, in the spell of memory and imagination, I can still see her as if through ice, as if I'm gazing into some other world, a place where there are no brain tumors and no funeral homes, where there are no bodies at all. I can see Kiowa, too, and Ted Lavender and Curt Lemon, and sometimes I can even see Timmy skating with Linda under the yellow floodlights. I'm young and happy. I'll never die. I'm skimming across the surface of my own history, moving fast, riding the melt beneath the blades, doing loops and spins, and when I take a high leap into the dark and come down thirty years later, I realize it is as Tim trying to save Timmy's life with a story. The End

© 2016 3D Divine Deadbeat Dad---Alleged - 3/1/16

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