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In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien

In the Lake of the Woods (1994)

by Tim O'Brien

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1,985543,400 (3.81)100
  1. 00
    Dispatches by Michael Herr (hazzabamboo)
    hazzabamboo: Dispatches was the central source for the film Apocalypse Now. It's non-fiction, but it conveys the hallucinatory horror of the Vietnam War in the same way as O'Brien's novel.
  2. 00
    Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane (Ciruelo)
    Ciruelo: Both novels are told in fragments, setting is critical to the tone of each, and finally both deal with the themes of love, guilt, memory, truth, and murder.

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Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
I'm shocked this book hasn't received a higher rating on Goodreads. O'Brien's message was beautiful, he wrote masterfully, and made me think immensely.

Here is what the book is actually about:
*Loving a person so much that you devote your life to becoming "one" with them, or, rather, losing yourself in them.
*Building "mirrors" in your mind, to shield yourself from the real world.
*Learning to deal with, or not deal with, a traumatic past.
*Realizing that when you fall in love with somebody so deeply, you are liable to do anything.. to have it take over your life.. to become nothing but nature acting upon itself.. think: "one plus one equals zero"
*Exploring the depth of human nature--what is at the bottom of our souls. How we are so completely unique at our depth, and yet the same, and yet still different. At what level can we relate, and therefore love?

O'Brien obviously left the ending to be open-ended, even drawing out beautifully described possible endings to this love story. I feel strongly that he did this to make a point--the ending is not so important. "Figuring out the ending" of this novel is NOT what the novel is about, and shame on those that think of this novel poorly for leaving such a wildly unclear mystery ending. What IS important is what leads up to the ending... the forces that could lead us to do a number of any of the suggested altnerative ending scenes to our lives.

This novel is about putting up so many mirrors and detaching yourself from reality so completely that you cease to exist in it. You become nothing, you are lost in the pattern and uncaring nature of the lake, you are in the middle world, of the not living but not accepted as dead, one plus one equals zero. Nothing. You could be anything but yet nothing. I think the story has a fantasty ending. I think John and Kathy slip into each other, into nothing, and out of the world. They lose themselves so completely that they become whatever the reader believes them to be, because they have lost their purchase on reality. They have swallowed each other up, and face the consequences: madness; uncontrollable, raging, poignant emotion; death?

Is man a monster for doing his best? Is man a monster for following his heart and loving so intensely? Is man a monster for losing control of himself? Is John Wade a monster?

I do not think so. ( )
  Proustitutes | Jun 11, 2015 |
In speaking about this novel, O'Brien states that this work interrogates the fine line between biology and spirit," between some literal, if unknowable, "truth" and the "truth" whose only evidence is the story that contains it. And in my opinion, it is the incapacity to register reality that becomes the main character of this novel.

In the Lake of the Woods begins conventionally enough. Rising politician John Wade, a decorated Vietnam veteran and Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota by 37, has lost the primary election for US Senate when secrets he thought were long buried emerge in the glare of public scrutiny. His opponent uncovered the fact that Wade was present at a massacre in the Vietnamese village of Thuan Yen, which is the local name for a place better known to history as My Lai, where on March 16, 1968, between 200 and 500 civilians were butchered by a company of American soldiers commanded by Lieut. William Calley. In the aftermath of these grisly revelations, John and his wife, Kathy recede to a secluded cabin on the lake. Only a few pages in, and thus not much time given to muster empathy for this character, Kathy disappears. At this point, the novel turns into a speculative meditation around the events of both Kathy's disappearance and the Vietnam war.

Deeply affected by the brutality of war, John Wade lives in a reality rifled with smoke and mirrors to escape reality. Even as a child, Wade was obsessed with magic and would conjure up the image of a father who loved him. A Dostoevsky quote best sums up the state of John's character: "There are things man is even afraid to tell himself and ever decent man has a considerable number of such things stored away...Man is bound to lie about himself." And indeed, John is a calculated caricature of a loving husband, decorated war hero and dashing politician.

The structure of this novel only serves to underscore John's fragmented psyche, but also leaves the reader wanting more. There are three kinds of story in "In the Lake of the Woods." The first is a conventional, remote third-person account of plain facts, the events that can be reconstructed without conjecture, more or less. The second kind of story appears in several chapters called "Evidence": collections of quotations, excerpts from interviews, actual court martial testimony, and readings that bear on the Wade case. The third kind of story appears in chapters called "Hypothesis"; it tries to suggest what might have happened to Kathleen Wade in the days after she disappeared. The reader doesn’t, and isn’t supposed to know, what is fact and what is supposition.

At it's finest, In the Lake of the Woods reflects on the long lasting legacy of war and matters such as truth, time and inward responsibility. It questions whether culpability can be parceled out, whether it belongs to the deed or the doer or merely to what the narrator calls the "poisonous sunlight of Vietnam". But at it's worst, the novel is a derivative, slow and often too structurally messy to follow. ( )
  Casey_Marie | May 4, 2015 |
A connection that I have made to the book so far is the election that John is in somewhat relates to the current events happening today with the 2016 election coming up for the U.S president. This connection helped me understand the process that john is going through in the story and why his recent war incidents are now coming up and hurting his chances. Then It also helps me understand how devastating it is when he eventually loses and how it effects him and his wife and how he eventually makes the decision to move to the cabin after the loss. One Literary term I noticed was there was a lot of cool diction used throughout the story. I think the diction was at first a part of johns character and it was used to show that he was smart and could use the words and then it showed more detail and added emphasis on what was happening in the story. The diction was used to paint a picture in my head so I could further understand what was happening and gave the book a whole other aspect that made is way more interesting then a regular book with out diction had. ( )
1 vote Hunter17 | Apr 29, 2015 |
A dynamite "unsolved mystery" that invites multiple interpretations. I teach this book in Literary Criticism course at Seton Hill U. and we come at it from a different school of criticism each week. Love it. And what a story!
  arnzen | Mar 8, 2015 |
The Lake In The Woods by Tim O'Brien
Story of Wayne and wife Cathy and his attempts to become a state senator are over with. They take a trip to the lake where there is a forest to recoup and reconnect with one another.
Problem is there is a deep chasm between them and one day he wakes up to find his wife gone. He is investigated as the cops not found her and the story goes back in time to when he served in Vietnam.
Horrid scenes unfold. Her sister comes to help search for her and her talks with Wayne reveal the past secrets and also how his wife hated the political campaigns. Magic, illusions, sorcery,
Pat fears Wayne has killed Cathy...as a child his father bullied and teased him due to his weight...
I received this book from National Library Service for my BARD (Braille Audio Reading Device). ( )
  jbarr5 | Feb 23, 2015 |
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With thanks to John Sterling, Larry Cooper, Michael Curtis, Les Ramirez, Carol Anhalt, Lori Galzer, Lynn Nesbit, and my loving familoy. Sam Lawrence, who died in January 1994, was my publisher, advocate, and friend for more than two decades. I will always happily recall his faith in me.
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In September, after the primary, they rented an old yellow cottage in the timber at the edge of Lake of the Woods.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 061870986X, Paperback)

Tim O'Brien has been writing about Vietnam in one way or another ever since he served there as an infantryman in the late 1960s. His earliest work on the subject, If I Die in a Combat Zone, was an intensely personal memoir of his own tour of duty; his books since then have featured many of the same elements of fear, boredom, and moral ambiguity but in a fictional setting. In 1994 O'Brien wrote In the Lake of the Woods, a novel that, while imbued with the troubled spirit of Vietnam, takes place entirely after the war and in the United States. The main character, John Wade, is a man in crisis: after spending years building a successful political career, he finds his future derailed during a bid for the U.S. Senate by revelations about his past as a soldier in Vietnam. The election lost by a landslide, John and his wife, Kathy, retreat to a small cabin on the shores of a Minnesota lake--from which Kathy mysteriously disappears.

Was she murdered? Did she run away? Instead of answering these questions, O'Brien raises even more as he slowly reveals past lives and long-hidden secrets. Included in this third-person narrative are "interviews" with the couple's friends and family as well as footnoted excerpts from a mix of fictionalized newspaper reports on the case and real reports pertaining to historical events--a mélange that lends the novel an eerie sense of verisimilitude. If Kathy's disappearance is at the heart of this work, then John's involvement in a My Lai-type massacre in Vietnam is its core, and O'Brien uses it to demonstrate how wars don't necessarily end when governments say they do. In the Lake of the Woods may not be true, but it feels true--and for Tim O'Brien, that's true enough. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:07 -0400)

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After John and Kathy realize that their marriage has been built on deception, Kathy mysteriously disappears in the Minnesota north woods.

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