Beautiful Writing, Part 6: Tim O’Brien




(Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0.)

One of the most extraordinary books I have ever read is The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. The book itself presents an interesting question: is this a novel or a collection of interrelated short stories? I do not intend to delve into that conundrum now, but it is something we often explore when I use this book in literature classes.

O’ Brien deals with the Vietnam War, writing, story, and memory, among other issues in this text, but what I want to show is the power and beauty of his writing. Following are several excerpts:

“Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a life-time ago, and yet the remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.” (38)

“I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.” (179)

“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 I’m happy. I’ll never die. I’m skimming across the surface of my own history, moving fast, riding the melt between 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.” (246)

Works Cited

O’ Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. Broadway Books. New York. 1990.



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