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In the Lake of the Woods (1994)

by Tim O'Brien

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,583724,792 (3.82)110
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 70 (next | show all)
rabck from the convention; short chapters covering the Vietnam war and now the lake house in Minnesota, where the couple goes to try to salvage their marriage. Did she disappear and how? And did he disappear after her? I had no idea that there was a "spur" of land heading up towards Canada that was so uninhabited. ( )
  nancynova | Dec 20, 2021 |
In the Lake of the Woods, you follow John Wade as he and his wife, Kathy, after losing the big election, go to a remote cabin by the lake. But, a few days into the stay, John wakes up to a strange morning and a wife not there. He doesn't think anything of it at first, but when Kathy doesn't come back, the search begins.

The book kept me interested because the narrator was so unreliable. I wanted to see if we, as the readers, would finally be able to piece together everything. There were times when you've been told one thing, but then told another, and you've got to think which one was more likely. It's a bit crazy but, like I said, it kept me reading. There was once (and not to give any spoilers) where John Wade is talking and he says just the tiniest of phrases that flipped a switch and I verbally shouted about it. It's rare that a book makes me verbally comment on it.

Tim O'Brien has a talent of being able to write about subjects that are false but wording it just so that they're true. Both books I read from him, I walked away able to recall multiple different scenes pretty vividly. I honestly don't read a lot of war stories (the two this year are from O'Brien), but I feel like he has such a talent at writing war stories. The craziness of what's real and what's not, what happened and how, and whether or not that's even important... he just really makes you think.

The layers of this book were insane too. You start off with the original scene - a cabin by the lake, but then you get backstory, upon backstory, upon backstory. Then, on top of that, there's Hypothesis chapters as to "what the character(s) might have done. You definitely end up piecing things together yourself. It makes the ending a bit open, that's for sure.

Though the main story in this novel isn't a war story, it ends up being a war story because of the backstories. There are the scenes of war mentioned in this book. If you are okay with reading that, and you like a good mystery, this book is for you. ( )
  oldandnewbooksmell | Sep 24, 2021 |
One of the saddest books I have ever read about a man who did terrible things, cannot forgive himself for them and ruins his own life and his wife's too because of it. Or maybe its about a sociopath who was always capable of terrible things and just needed a war to draw them out.

It's a little shaggy around the edges, not as clean as Tim O'Brien's best book 'The Things They Carried" but still the work of a master storyteller obsessed by the subjects of pain, grief, memory and running away from all of it. ( )
  Smokler | Jan 3, 2021 |
An incredible post-modernist account of a Vietnam veteran whose political career and marriage are ruined when his company's war crimes are revealed. ( )
  stephkaye | Dec 14, 2020 |
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 |
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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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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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