The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien is part novel, part short story collection, part memoir, part fiction writing manual, and altogether amazing. You've probably already read it, it was published in 1990 and I've had it in my TBR pile for a long time. But I just finally got around to it when I finished school. The only problem is that once you've read it, you see it everywhere, so even though it's new to me, it already feels like a cliché.
It's about O'Brien's experience in Vietnam, and at times it is really hard to read. (But, oddly, the only time I wanted to put the book down because it was too horrible to read was not a war part.) Normally I don't like war books. I think because usually in a book about war, I feel like the author is trying to convince me how horrible war is, which I already know. That sale has already been made, so why would I want to keep listening to the sales pitch?
But O'Brien's purpose is broader than that. Or maybe narrower. He is just describing his experience, which includes the horror of war, but it also includes how it felt to be drafted, and how he fell in love in fourth grade, and even at one point an entire chapter about how he wrote the previous chapter. By including stories about grade school and PTSD and taking his daughter back to Vietnam twenty years after the war was over, he both dampens and intensifies the effect of the chapters that are about the war.
You get it--like a ton of bricks, you get how awful it was to be there at certain moments--but you also get far more than that. It would be an interesting book to discuss with a bunch of creative writers, because at times it doesn't quite hang together as a piece of writing. Some of the chapters are so strong as short stories that they overwhelm the structure of the book, even though it is clear that he intended to shape them into something more than just a collection of stories. But on the other hand, part of the effect he achieves is because he throws all these disparate elements together and lets them rub up against each other. From any perspective, though-- the writing, the experience, the history-- it's fascinating. Highly recommended.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Sick, disturbing, twisted. Amy Dunne disappears on the morning of her fifth anniversary, and her husband Nick is the most likely suspect. You think you know what's going on for the first two hundred pages or so--even though I could imagine two different ways it might play out, I was pretty sure one of them was right. Then one of them became obviously true, and from there you think it's going to be just a game of cat and mouse, to see if the police will find out the truth in time to resolve things at the end. But there's one more twist right at the end, and the novel that I kept reading in spite of being totally creeped out, in spite of having nightmares, kept reading because I was sure that even if it wasn't a happy ending, at least things would be resolved at the end, finally just turned into a more twisted, more creepy, more sickening unresolved horror. It's brilliant, there's no doubt about that. And if you like creepy, horrifying books, then by all means run right out and get it. But it's the first book I think I've ever read that I wish I hadn't.
And that's all for this month. If that summary of Gone Girl makes you just curious enough to think you might want to read it, let me know and I will give enough plot details so you can satisfy your curiosity without having to read the damn thing. I was going to start having a "genre fiction of the month" and a "non-fiction of the month" section, but I didn't finish reading either one by the time March rolled around, so maybe I'll do it next month.