In many ways, The Things They Carried is a cathartic exercise in exorcising the demons created by Mr. O’Brien’s experiences in Vietnam. He lays the ghosts of his fellow soldiers to rest by sharing their stories; he knits together the wounds made by their losses and his inexplicable participation in a war to which he was opposed. The stories are powerful, made more so by the simple fact that so many people forget about the battles fought and the death toll inflicted on both sides during the conflict. Mr. O’Brien does not attempt to soften the images or extrapolate his experiences to the greater conflict. They are his own personal stories, and he holds no one accountable for them but himself.
What makes The Things They Carried different from other Vietnam War memoirs is the dream-like quality with which Mr. O’Brien infuses all of his stories. They happened, and they remain painful memories. They are not pleasant stories to hear – gruesome in their details and the callousness they show. Yet, they have a hallucinogenic quality to them that makes it easy to see why no one talks about the Vietnam War in the same way World War II still gets mentioned. Mr. O’Brien, with his political and philosophical opposition to the war, represents all of the soldiers fighting at that point in time. He is not proud to be fighting for his country; he does not understand the political aim of the fighting. It is as if his lack of convictions towards the political machinations of the conflict prevents him from seeing his past as little more than vivid, trauma-inducing dreams.
There is a bitterness to his stories that is difficult for readers to overcome. His feelings of futility while trekking throughout the Vietnam countryside, the senseless deaths of his friends and comrades, the guilt at surviving as well as the guilt for wanting to go back out into the bush combine with his feelings of disgust with the government for putting kids in harms’ way like that and allowing them to commit murder in the name of democracy to create a poisonous stew that is difficult to swallow. It is particularly prevalent in Mr. O’Brien’s self-narrated essay “The Vietnam in Me”, although the same tone persists throughout The Things They Carried as well.
Bryan Cranston proves himself to be just as good a narrator as an actor as he lends his voice to Mr. O’Brien’s heartfelt and gut-wrenching words. Mr. Cranston’s voice is the perfect blend of gruffness and earnestness, and it is easy to get lost in his performance. The pictures Mr. O’Brien paints of his war experiences are at times tough to experience, but Mr. Cranston’s performance is soothing and yet extremely effective in showcasing the frustration, confusion, impotence, anger, loneliness, loss, macabre humor, and fright every soldier experienced in and after the Vietnam War.
The Things They Carried is a collection of vignettes of the Vietnam War as experienced by a grunt and told as a method of seeking atonement for being one of the lucky few to walk away from the experience with a few physical scars and much-deeper psychological ones. It is not flashy; it does not seek to justify one’s actions. It is a humble story in that the author seeks not glory but closure. His desire to lay down his burdens shouldered during and after the war as a survivor is palpable, making a bleak collection of stories that much more powerful and poignant. The Things They Carried is a profound indictment against the futility of the war and a tremendous testament to those who disagreed with the reasons for fighting but went ahead and fought anyway.
The Bone Season is the first book in what is slated to be a seven-part series. This means that there is a lot of world-building. This also means that there are many unanswered questions, many storylines left open-ended, and a lot of ambiguity. However, this should not be a scare factor for anyone. Samantha Shannon accomplishes quite a bit in this ambitious opening. While the world she creates is very complex, and the cast of characters is large, readers will find it very easy to immerse themselves into this unique setting among the eclectic cast. Her use of familiar sites and locations helps ease the discomfort associated with adjusting to an alternative history. The story is also helped by her ability to continue to acclimate readers to her new world without halting the story’s forward progress through pages upon pages of descriptions. The descriptions happen – and they are excellently written – but they occur simultaneously, keeping the momentum and intensity and effectiveness of the story intact.
While the entire novel hints at future story lines, none have quite as much potential as the Rephaim and particularly Warden. His actions within THE BONE SEASON remain shrouded in mystery. His relationships to his fellow Rephaim as well as to the humans are unclear, while his motivations are not only unclear but downright unknown. It makes his actions that much more intriguing because a reader is left in the dark as much as Paige is. Ms. Shannon does intimate at Warden’s backstory, and the glimpses shown are tantalizing in the possibilities.
Not only is Ms. Shannon setting the stage for future novels, but she manages to make The Bone Season a fast-paced thrill ride of a novel with a surprisingly large amount of closure. Paige’s struggle to adapt to life as a prisoner and the world of the Rephaim is intense, as she fights to maintain her independence and stay true to her principals in an environment that views her as lower than the low and only worthy of subjugation. Paige proves herself to be one of the strongest female characters to grace the pages of any novel with her fierce determination, unique skill set, and her pride. As the tension ratchets up to a fever pitch, the action – which was already intense – kicks into high gear, and a reader can only sit back and enjoy the ride. The final breathtaking pages will not only leave a reader anxiously anticipating the next installment but also celebrating the diverse and multi-layered world Ms. Shannon creates.
Alana Kerr's performance is very subtle. She saves the emotional performance for the dialogue, and the narrative remains calm and almost soothing. In fact, the narrative is so quiet and emotionless that those experiencing the story for the first time may struggle remaining focused enough to understand Ms. Shannon's unfamiliar world. For those who are familiar with the story though, her performance enhances the familiar, placing emphasis on Paige's Irish roots and the diversity of Oxford's inhabitants. Ms. Kerr proves herself more than capable of tackling the hundreds of local accents that is a natural part of any story taking place on British soil as she switches from one character to another without pause or problem. All of the characters have their own unique accent, pitch, delivery, tonality, and intensity. It is an understated and most excellent performance but one most listeners may not appreciate given the lengthy amounts of world-building required to understand Paige's situation and the strange world of Scion and the Rephaim.
Report Inappropriate Content