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In the Lake of the Woods (1994)

by Tim O'Brien

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2,388674,428 (3.82)109
After John and Kathy realize that their marriage has been built on deception, Kathy mysteriously disappears in the Minnesota north woods.
  1. 10
    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 67 (next | show all)
I almost passed on this book. After having read three of O'Brien's Vietnam War works, I had begun to feel that there was too much lacking in them. This was especially true of The Things They Carried and Going After Caccioto, where his obsession with experiments in form ended up being clumsy and heavy-handed. Then, I found that If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home was insightful and challenging in its own way. But in all three books, O'Brien nevertheless seemed not to understand Southeast Asia. Worse, he didn't even seem to understand that he didn't understand Southeast Asia. Something of an irritation with works centered on the Vietnam War.

But with In the Lake of the Woods this "fault" seems to work in his favor. All the atmosphere, setting, and feel absent from his descriptions of Southeast Asia only highlight the vividness of his world back home, back in Minnesota, especially in the wilderness of its lakes and islands on the cusp of autumn. This is the world that Vietnam shattered, not only for John Wade but for a generation of soldiers, particularly those who were in combat during Vietnam. It's a telling that demonstrates how memory has been severed from itself. All the iterations of John and Kath's story depict that--the constant reveals and re-reveals. And, here, O'Brien's obsessions with shifting perspectives, disrupted timelines, flashbacks and flash forwards all work to perfection. It all comes together in this novel.

For Wade, Vietnam is a dream, a nightmare, an hallucination. And maybe that is, or was, true for the entire country. By 1994, when In the Lake of the Woods was published, the great Vietnam War cycle of films, literature, and television programs was over. A new set of wars in the Middle East were just pushing themselves into the forefront of the American consciousness. And the digital age online was just beginning. In that regard, In the Lake of the Woods has turned out to be visionary. The shock and fragmentation of the war in Southeast Asia on soldiers was about to applied in a milder, albeit more unrelenting and pervasive, assault upon all the golden dreams of youth and a stable America of the pre-1960s that O'Brien seems to yearn for so often. Yet if In the Lake of the Woods tells us anything it is that all memories, all iterations, are just as real as they are a fantasy. Is there a difference? Isn't fantasy, in fact, real? Don't we really fantasize? If memory is all there is to help determine a difference, how can you ever tell? ( )
  PaulCornelius | Apr 12, 2020 |
Een heftig boek, vooral vanwege de stukken over Vietnam. Qua stijl en opzet erg goed maar ik vond het af en toe te gewelddadig. En veel hypotheses, geen duidelijke uitkomst, ruimte voor twijfel. Dat is niet perse negatief. ( )
  elsmvst | Jul 28, 2019 |
John Wade, running for the U.S. senate, receives a crushing defeat when a dark secret he has kept hidden for nearly twenty years, suddenly sees the light. Wade and his wife flee to the deep woods of northern Minnesota, to escape the public eye and try to repair and renew their lives. Shortly after arriving, his wife mysteriously disappears from their lakeside cabin.
This is a dark and disturbing tale, especially when the reader discovers, that Wade's secret, was that he was a young soldier, involved in the My Lai massacre, told in a series of horrifying flashbacks.
The story becomes a tangle of mystery, illusion and secrets, with the Lake of the Woods being a perfect backdrop, for these deceptive and destructive themes. O'Brien is a fine writer, who also seems to be wrestling with his own demons of war. ( )
  msf59 | Sep 29, 2017 |
Pulls off a remarkably unified mystery, pollitical narrative, solitude story, and war recollection. Marriage issues are presented alongside war atrocities from Vietnam and native American conflicts to great dramatic effect. Feels specifically Minnesotan in both setting and character personalities. What ambiguity there is at the end is not the frustrating sort, because every possibility is implied or speculated on in the narrative ( )
  albertgoldfain | Jul 17, 2017 |
So very well written that you begin to accept that these events, or perhaps something very similar, have probably happened a time or two. Everyone has hidden places buried deep and Tim O'Brien explores those places inside John Wade in this terrific mystery. Two things I really liked. First, how the Lake of the Woods metaphorically sums up those hidden places. Second, how the phrase "one plus one equals zero" so perfectly describes the whole book. I loved it. ( )
  5hrdrive | Jun 2, 2017 |
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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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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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