When Tim O’Brien’s collection of Vietnam War stories, “The Things They Carried,” was published in 1990, a New York Times reviewer placed it “high up on the list of best fiction about any war.” Which must have pleased O’Brien, who told an NPR panel on the book's 20th anniversary that he hoped it would continue to resonate not just with his fellow Vietnam vets but high school students, the true target of the book.
What, he was asked, does he hope younger readers take away from "The Things They Carried"?
“To move beyond platitude, to move beyond the mythology we carry about ourselves and our country, to move beyond the … sort of the notion, I suppose, that, through physical violence … we can always accomplish what we want.
“Sometimes … things like wars can do precisely the reverse of what you want with a policy. … That a bullet can kill the enemy, but a bullet can also produce an enemy, depending on whom that bullet strikes.
“If it strikes some little boy, a 3-year-old, you have got a very angry mom and a very angry dad and a bunch of neighbors who are not happy. That isn't to say I'm arguing against all war. … But it is to say that I think young people, in particular, need to understand the complications and the ambiguities of these things, and to hear it from someone who has not only gone to a war, but devoted a lifetime to suffering from it.”
IF YOU GO
In conjunction with The Big Read Miami, a monthlong celebration of the book sponsored by the Center for Literature and Theatre at Miami Dade College and the Miami-Dade Public Library System, Tim O’Brien will discuss “The Things They Carried” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Coral Gables Congregational Church (3010 De Soto Blvd.). Admission: Free. Info: TheCenterAtMDC.org. The event is co-presented by Books and Books.
Photo: Detail from book jacket, courtesy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt