As I was rummaging through my textbooks, notebooks, journals, and random “read-for-pleasure” books that were sprawled out across my apartment’s floor, attempting to pack for summer storage, an old and worn-out binding caught my attention. The cover showed men trekking through a jungle, carrying weapons and backpacks and helmets and rifles. The book, The Things they Carried by Tim O’Brien, took me back to my AP English Literature course in high school – a class that, like most of my English classes in high school, quickly left my mind as soon as the final exam had ended. A creative non-fiction classic, The Things they Carried gives anachronous glimpses into the life of an American soldier in the Vietnam War. The book’s leading character, the narrator and the author, absorbs the reader into the hardships, routine, and trauma that most soldiers experienced during the war. One of the most intriguing facets of this work is O’Brien’s confession of the unreliable narration of his own story. He admits to any and all stories of the war and its aftermath being possibly corrupted by his memory – or, as O’Brien writes, “story truth” versus “happening truth.” Thus, the audience must decide whether or not we can truly trust what O’Brien tells as the truth.
Whether the reader believes O’Brien’s stories or not, O’Brien’s suspenseful and intriguing creative non-fiction recollection is one of my favorite books, and I am happy to read it again – for the 4th time.