The Things They Carried: Tim O’Brien’s Masterpiece

About 23 years ago I read the short story “The Nuclear Age” by Tim O’Brien.  I think it was in a Pushcart anthology.  I didn’t know writing could be like that–a present-tense literary lightning bolt that shot through me.  When I was at UF studying fiction writing, Louise Shivers got me into the Augusta Writers Conference where I met O’Brien.  He read a short story of mine.  I asked him about writing, and he said he was the kind of writer that wrote ten hours a day on his birthday.  When I told him I wanted to begin a novel that summer because I wouldn’t be working, he laughed.  Three months on a novel was nothing to him (I think he normally spends five years).  I told him I wanted to read his first book, Northern Lights, and he told me not to.  He wanted to rewrite it.  (I read it years later and wondered if he’d rewritten the reissue.)   What a workhorse.  At the conference, he read “How to Tell a True War Story,” and I was once again on my way into a whole new kind of writing.  Later, I wrote a review for The Things They Carried and sent it unsolicited to the Orlando Sentinel.  The book editor didn’t publish it–she’d written her own–but she liked it and asked for more, which started a string of reviews that I did.  But more important than those reviews was my discovery of O’Brien and his marvelous stories.  Years later I saw him read at Flagler College.  He signed my copy “Peace & I hope this reaches inside.”  There’s something about his writing that does just that.  Anything he publishes I immediately buy.

Happy 20th Birthday to an American original: The Things They Carried.

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One response to “The Things They Carried: Tim O’Brien’s Masterpiece

  1. I recently read “The Things They Carried,” having heard and about it for years. To say that it took my breath away is an understatement. I don’t think I’ve read anything as powerful in the last two decades. His prose has an incantatory power I rarely come across, and while I read it felt like I was treading on sacred ground: someone had lifted the veil to reveal the hideous specter of evil and the sorrowful beauty that falls victim to it. Finding your website and watching some of Tim O’Brien’s interviews confirmed what I felt about him after I read his book: here is a man willing to risk everything to tell the truth.

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