Reviewing Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods

Every chair in the four-hundred plus seat auditorium on the campus of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL was filled, Saturday evening January 18, 2014 to hear a reading by Vietnam veteran and award-winning author Tim O’Brien. There was not a dry eye in the room when he finished his selection “How to Tell a True War Story” from The Things They Carried (1990).

But, as O’Brien says “a true war story is never about war,” and not too long after The Things They Carried was published he came out with In the Lake of the Woods (1994) which is another war story that’s not about war.

What it seems to be about is a woman who has gone missing while on vacation with her husband, but it’s also about how sons cope when they can’t please their fathers, about how secrets people keep come back to haunt them, about young love and married life, , and about how the setting sun over a lake in northern Minnesota makes you feel when one plus one equals zero.

It’s also about what you might have done if you had been ordered you to kill every living peron and animal in the village at My Lai in 1968 and about how it would have affected you no matter what you chose to do––to kill or just watch.

It’s also about how long a woman can live with a man who spies on her, who has secrets he can’t share, and who is not who he pretends to be for the public.

The evidence is all there and the evidence is inconclusive. You, the reader, must decide: did a murder take place or did two people in love plan an ingenuous escape to recapture their dreams? Another fine story from Tim O’Brien that is and is not about war.

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