The Things They Carried is the only book on my list that I have listened to exclusively. This was purely coincidental. My father had bought the audiobook months ago, and for some reason, I was struck with a pang of laziness upon seeing the cover. I just didn’t feel like seeing the words for this book, so I only downloaded the audio version to my Kindle, listened to it over a week or so.
This book shattered my expectations. I can’t really say what I expected from this book. I mean, I knew it was a war story, but I wasn’t expecting the raw, deeply emotional, contemplative masterpiece presented to me. As I mentioned in my Reading Update post, I strongly believe that this book is a story that needs to be heard rather than read. Of course, Bryan Cranston’s excellent performance possibly makes me a bit biased, but it definitely added to the emotional depth necessary to make this book come alive. At the end of the reading, I knew that the name wasn’t simply coincidental. I will carry the lessons of this book for a very long time.
The Things They Carried has a somewhat deceptive opening. It starts with O’Brien’s detailing his platoon’s inventory, beginning with the letters his commander – First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross – carries with him. He expands from the personal to the impersonal, detailing the specs, functions and necessities of the platoon’s equipment. He lists the personal effects each man carries and explains the presence of many unusual items in the platoon’s stocks (e.g. dope, tranquilizers and pound cake with canned peaches).
The book opens up from there and O’Brien, with his twenty-years of post-war wisdom, explains the conflict and its impacts on himself and the men around him. He talks about the deaths and how the soldiers found macabre ways of dealing with its impact. He explained how some lose their minds as they constantly deal with a stream of bodies. He reminisces – in great detail – about the first man he killed, the resulting gravity of guilt and the calming words of his friend Kiowa who tried his best to get him back on his feet.
I don’t think that I can do this book a fair amount of justice. The book is deep and heavy, and to fully explain how I feel about the book would result in a barrage of spoilers I do not want to disclose. But, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the weightiness of this book. It tells of the many hardships soldiers must face before, during and after a war. The tale is very well crafted, and thus it keeps you interested and draws you in to see the world as O’Brien and the other members of Alpha Company (the platoon) saw it over 40 years ago in Vietnam.