The News Tribune logo

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

In The Lake of the Woods---A Novel By Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien's book,In The Lake Of The Woods, is one great read. It is absorbing, thought provoking with characters I quickly grew to love or hate, and with a story that opened my eyes to a deeper appreciation of how violence destroys the lives of many, many people

What happened to Kathy Wade? That question is the focus of Tim O'Brien's 1994 novel...Did she finally decide to leave her manipulative husband? Was she the victim of a tragic accident? Was she murdered?

Her husband, John Wade, appears to be a loveable, sincere human being. But what makes him tick... his desire to serve others, his need to be loved?

His beautiful wife, Kathy, appears to be happy and very much in love with him.
He appears to be devoted to her. But behind those appearances... what fears and hurts hid behind the ways Kathy and John Wade presented themselves to others?

In one of his footnotes, our author, a veteran of the Viet Nam War, proposes that John Wade's life, like his own, had been changed by what he had seen and done as a soldier in Viet Nam: "We moved like sleepwalkers through the empty villages, shadowed by an enemy we could never find, calling in medevac choopers and loading up the caualties and then moving out again toward the next deadly little ville. And behind us we left a wake of fire and smoke."
Footnote 127

Tim O'Brien states that John Wade, actually, was emotionally and mentally scarred by what he had seen and done in Viet Nam. He appeared to be happy, optimistic, courageous, and trusting... he actually was very needy, filled with shame and anger, unsure, and full of fear. Kathy Wade did her best to support her husband, though, over the hard, weary years of their marriage, he became emotionally distant; and, at times, he spoke and acted in ways that frightened her.

I wonder, in those lonely hours, when many of us finally permit ourselves to attend to what we are thinking and feeling do have to admit that, perhaps, we are needy, ashamed, angry, unsure, and full of fear?

Then, we decide to let go of those questions, and "get on with our lives." But when those feelings show themselves to others-- when we respond suddenly to something that another person or group of people say or do something that touches us in our inner hard, dark places we find ourselves reacting in surprising ways.

Before we know it we are frowning not smiling, despairing not hoping, striking out thoughtlessly not responding appropriately.

I spent many hours with In The Lake Of The Woods because so many moments in the book invited me to consider my own dark places-- to stop, look at, and listen to my fears and recall my follies.

Readers... please share with the rest of us some book, poem, song, or other experience that has been the occasion for you to stop, look at, and listen to your inner concerns.

And consider reading Tim O'Brien's In The Lake Of The Woods!

In this video two people focus on the main theme of In The Lake Of The Woods. Enjoy!


Stephanie Frieze said...

Great review, Joseph. I've never read any O'Brien novels, but I'm likely to now. Thank you for sharing your passion for the written word and journey into the human heart and psyche.

JosephMcG said...

Say, hey, Stephanie... thanks for the affirmation... I am an O'Brien fanatic... I think he is in tune with the American heart beat in ways I have not found with other writers... and his creativity and writing style just wonderful

He invites me to look at my own development ... from the forties to today and ask myself those good old where am I going and why am I here questions...

His description of the human wreckage that comes with war is very graphic... so I encourage you to be ready to feel your chest and stomach muscles tightening up...


Stephanie Frieze said...

Am currently reading the novel The year of Fog by Michelle Richmond, a mystery about a child who goes missing. My insides are tightened. I will check out O'Brien soon.