Published 1990 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Dates read: March 10-May 7, 2017
When I first started reading this book, I downloaded a copy on Amazon Kindle and read it on my phone, then because it was a small screen I couldn't handle it so listened to part of it as an audio book. That still didn't do it for me so I was able to get my hands on a hardcover book from the library! I prefer the physical copy for this book because it was so riveting and attention grabbing that I wanted more of it and the sooner the better (I tend to get through books faster reading the paperback/hardcover over Kindle or audio).
Through this compilation of award winning short stories, O'Brien recounts the experiences the members of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and of course, O'Brien. First published in 1990, The Things They Carried has become an American classic and testament to the trials and tribulations the men endured during the Vietnam war.
Some stories made me sit in disbelief, while others made me cry, and most broke my heart that these young men experienced such horrors only to come home to a country full of hate and anger towards them. The first short story (chapter), aptly titled the same as the book, contained many quotes that made my heart ache, such as "They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried." Then later in the same chapter, this quote summed up the entirety of the book for me before it was even finished, "They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak."
Although there were many scenes full of intense gory violence, there are plenty more that are funny, humane, and relatable. Even decades after the war, O'Brien still carries things with him (hence the title), something that many people don't understand unless they went through it too. It's evidenced through the few times he shares that his daughter makes comments about why he lingers on the past. It's clear that he is bothered by her comments but doesn't know how to explain it to her or if he even wants to or can.
As Writer's Relief wrote in their review on Goodreads, "There are moments in the book when you wonder if what he remembers actually happened or if he’s rewriting his memories as a coping mechanism. His vivid storytelling abilities will have you suffering alongside the soldiers; so much so that, when you finish the book, you also carry a bit of the burden of war."
While reading these stories I couldn't help but wonder if he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or whether or not he is getting help. It's something that he didn't touch on, nor would I have expected him to address in this book given the purpose of the stories being more about sharing his stories than about the follow-up care. After reading the descriptions of his other books on Goodreads, it doesn't seem like he addresses PTSD directly head on - it's definitely addressed at least indirectly through showing the aftermath of coming home from a war.
Rating: 4 out of 5 - Enjoyed it, not quite loved it because while it gave some insight into his experience, I didn't like the disconnectedness of a compilation of short stories. At the same time, I think the format was necessary because his memories and the events were disconnected.