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In the Lake of the Woods

In the Lake of the Woods

by Tim O'Brien


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This riveting novel of love and mystery from the author of The Things They Carried examines the lasting impact of the twentieth century’s legacy of violence and warfare, both at home and abroad. When long-hidden secrets about the atrocities he committed in Vietnam come to light, a candidate for the U.S. Senate retreats with his wife to a lakeside cabin in northern Minnesota. Within days of their arrival, his wife mysteriously vanishes into the watery wilderness.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780618709861
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/01/2006
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 12,396
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)
Lexile: HL730L (what's this?)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

TIM O’BRIEN received the 1979 National Book Award for Going After Cacciato. Among his other books are The Things They Carried, Pulitzer Finalist and a New York Times Book of the Century, and In the Lake of the Woods, winner of the James Fenimore Cooper Prize. He was awarded the Pritzker Literature Award for lifetime achievement in military writing in 2013.

Date of Birth:

October 1, 1946

Place of Birth:

Austin, Minnesota


B.A., Macalester College, 1968; Graduate study at Harvard University

Reading Group Guide


On its surface, In the Lake of the Woods suggests the classic locked-room mystery turned on its head. Sometime between the night and late morning of September 19, 1986, a woman vanishes near Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota, "where the water was everything, vast and very cold, and where there were secret channels and portages and bays and tangled forests and islands without names." While the traditional locked-room mystery presents investigators - and readers - with the seemingly impossible, the disappearance of Kathy Wade poses too many possibilities, a wilderness of hypotheses. There are too many places she could have gone, too many things that could have happened to her.


As Tim O'Brien gradually reveals in this haunting, morally vertiginous novel, there were too many reasons for Kathy to vanish. All of them are connected to her husband, John, an attractive if morally confused 40-year-old politician whose career has lately ended in a defeat so humiliating that it has driven the Wades to an isolated cabin in the Minnesota woods.

A long-buried secret has resurfaced to bury John alive; perhaps it has buried Kathy along with him. John's disgrace originated in "a place with secret trapdoors and tunnels and underground chambers populated by various spooks and goblins, a place where magic was everyone's hobby...a place where the air itself was both reality and illusion, where anything might instantly become anything else."

Its geographic epicenter is the village of Thuan Yen in Vietnam. It was there, eighteen years before, that John Wade was transformed from a boy with a gift for performing magic tricks (his platoon-mates knew him as "Sorcerer") into an entranced killer.

What happened at Thuan Yen was not fiction. The events that took place there were widely reported and documented in official U.S. Army hearings and are known today as the My Lai massacre. At the heart of In the Lake of the Woods is its brutal re-creation of this wound in John Wade's history and his country's. Because Wade was one of many killers, Tim O'Brien intersperses his narrative with the testimony of real figures like Lieutenant Rusty Calley and U.S. Army Investigator William V. Wilson--not to mention Presidents Richard Nixon and Woodrow Wilson. Just as John's and Kathy's associates--his mother and campaign manager, her sister and co-worker--try to decipher the events at Lake of the Woods, those historical witnesses posit partial explanations for America's mysteriously aligned obsessions with politics and violence.

Clausewitz observed that war is the continuation of politics by other means. Tim O'Brien suggests that politics, at least in its American variety, is a continuation of needs more basic and more terrible even than the need for power. The craving for love, he reminds us, can drive the human soul toward acts of desperation, deceit, and even violence.

For O'Brien, as for the unnamed investigator who is his narrator, all explanations are hypotheses rather than proofs. Beyond the mystery of Kathy's disappearance and John's role in it, and even beyond the mystery of My Lai, are other riddles: What predisposed John to become a murderer? What sort of magic enabled him to make his past vanish for twenty years, and what disappeared along with it? How could he love Kathy with such self-annihilating ferocity while keeping an essential part of himself hidden from her? Was Kathy a victim of John's deceptions or a participant in them? Is John an autonomous moral agent or another victim-of a bad childhood or a bad war or the murderous pastel sunlight of Vietnam? With In the Lake of the Woods, O'Brien has reinvented the novel as a magician's trick box equipped with an infinite number of false bottoms. Kathy's disappearance remains a "magnificent giving over to pure and absolute Mystery." John believes that "to know is to be disappointed. To understand is to be betrayed." This brave and troubling novel neither betrays nor disappoints, but brings the reader into a direct confrontation with the insoluble enigmas of history, character, and evil.


Minnesota native Tim O'Brien graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul in 1968. He served as a foot soldier in Vietnam from February 1969 to March 1970. Following his military service, he went to graduate school in Government at Harvard University, then later worked as a national affairs reporter for The Washington Post.

O'Brien is the author of the novel Going After Cacciato, winner of the 1979 National Book Award for fiction, and of The Things They Carried, winner of the 1990 Chicago Tribune Heartland Award in fiction. Its title story, first published in Esquire, received the 1987 National Magazine Award in fiction.

His other books are If I Die in a Combat Zone, Northern Lights, and The Nuclear Age.

His work has appeared in numerous magazines, including Esquire, The Atlantic Monthly, Playboy, McCall's, Granta, Harper's, Redbook, The New Republic, Ploughshares, Gentleman's Quarterly, and Saturday Review. His short stories have been anthologized in The O. Henry Prize Stories (1976, 1978, 1982), Great Esquire Fiction, Best American Short Stories (1978, 1987), The Pushcart Prize (Vols. II and X), and in many textbooks and collections. He has received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Massachusetts Arts and Humanities Foundation.

In The Lake of the Woods was selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review as one of the best books of 1994.


Q: How did you come to write In the Lake of the Woods? Did you know the whole story from the beginning, or did you start with a particular premise or image?

A: I certainly did not know the whole story. It would've killed my own interest and curiosity--like going to a movie after someone has given away its conclusion. I began In the Lake of the Woods with the scene on the porch. An image of two very unhappy people, lost in the fog, lost in a deep spiritual and psychological way. As a writer, I had to discover bit by bit the causes of their immense despair, just as the reader does. Discovery is one of the great joys for both the reader and the writer.

Q: One of the problems this novel poses is that the reader is asked to like--or at least empathize with--a character who is, at the very least, severely damaged, addicted to subterfuge and guilty of terrible acts during the Vietnam War. Was this something that worried you as you wrote? How did you compensate for it?

A: It didn't worry me. One of the things I've never understood is the complaint that such-and-such a character is "unlikable." The figures in fiction I respond to most powerfully are those I don't necessarily like or even identify with: Raskolnikov, or Abraham, or Bartleby, or Captain Ahab, or Anna Karenina, or Emma Bovary, or Lady Macbeth, or Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises, another man damaged by a war. Who wants to go out for a beer with Lady Macbeth? Yet when I read about such characters, I'm pulled along by their spiritual and moral problems; I'm often rooting for them to emerge whole from the blackness. Wade is one of those characters. I find myself rooting for him, wishing him the best, even as his life gets bleaker and bleaker, as he keeps making bad choices. But then, sometimes people don't have absolute freedom of choice. Life and history impose constraints on all of us. In Wade's case--a childhood like his, a history like his--the freedom to choose has been limited by an overwhelming need to be loved, at almost any cost. So I have sympathy for him. He's a man in great trouble. There's a piece of John Wade inside each of us, I think. We don't have to like it, but we would be wise to acknowledge it.

Q: Speaking of guilt, is John Wade responsible for what happened at Thuan Yen? Are the terrible things that happened to him in combat--and earlier during his childhood - meant to justify or even explain his conduct? Do you believe that William Calley had a story of his own that might mitigate his guilt? Is something like the My Lai massacre fully explicable in terms of individual pathology?

A: We're all responsible for our actions in the world, and John Wade is responsible for his. Unfortunately, he can't own up to his sins and failures and weaknesses. He not only hides them from others but from himself, as so many of us do. Even as Wade tries to atone for his past by entering politics as a progressive Democrat, he's drawing a veil over his own misdeeds and so is both perpetuating and compounding all his guilt. There's a difference between explanation and exculpation. One can point to all sorts of reasons why people like Calley did what they did: fear, frustration, rage at the enemy - yet such explanations do not justify mass murder. Wade is guilty not only for his actions at My Lai, but also for leading a deceitful and self-defeating life afterwards. Still, I don't find him evil by nature. He loves his wife dearly, he feels great guilt, he wants to open up but cannot, until it's too late. The man suffers. He's terrified of losing the woman he loves.

Q: I know that you yourself were present at My Lai some time after the massacre. What was it like for you? Did it leave you, do you think, with any intuition into what someone like John Wade - or William Calley or Paul Meadlo - might have felt in the moments before the killing started?

A: In some respects. Not just My Lai, but Quang Ngai province and Vietnam in general. For instance, there was a sense of never being able to find the enemy because they were both among and of the population. There was a sense of rage as you watched your friends' bodies pile up. A sense of mystery, too, at never knowing who was for you and who was against you. A sense of growing indifference to the fate of the Vietnamese themselves. All this was true for me, and it was probably true for Calley. But it's just as true that you don't go killing babies just because you're enraged or frustrated. The events at My Lai are also a metaphor for the evils that occur every day, for the sins that are committed even in the course of living a life in the suburbs and streets of America. Sin isn't limited to warfare. We've all done bad things and had to find ways to keep living.

Q: Why did you choose to make the narrator a character in the novel? Who is he intended to be? Is the reader meant to trust his interpretations? Is he any more reliable than John himself?

A: He's more trustworthy. Imperfect, though - limited by all that he does not and cannot know. Like all of us. I saw the narrator as a biographer, a medium, a storyteller like Conrad's Marlow. He's trying to present an accurate flow of events, periodically stepping back to make sense of what he's relating. Marlow is fallible just as my own narrator is fallible. There's always the problem of ignorance. There's always so much we can never know about Kurtz. There's so much we can never know about what happened at that cottage on Lake of the Woods. There's always the wall of ignorance, beyond which the narrator can only speculate. And that's the heart of the novel. On the plot level, we will never know what happened to Kathy. On the psychological level, we can't read the hearts of other human beings. We can't penetrate the minds of our own husbands and wives. We can't read their motives or secret thoughts. We can only guess. We can only hypothesize. Certain things in life will always remain pure mystery, and this both frustrates and fascinates us. In a footnote I use the example of the way Lizzie Borden endures in American mythology. Custer's Last Stand, the Kennedy assassination, the disappearance of Amelia Earheart - we don't know what happened; we can't know. If these mysteries were to be solved, we'd stop caring. We don't go to movies about Herbert Hoover dying of old age. We go to movies like JFK. Human beings are entranced by mystery. Whole religions are built around the condition of profound human ignorance. What happens to us after we die? How did we all get here? What caused the universe to exist?

Q: In your essay "The Magic Show" you compare the act of making magic, of conjuring up pleasurable illusions, to the art of writing fiction. Yet John's use of magic seems less pleasant, more sinister. Can you talk about this?

A: I tried to explore both sides of this magic-doing business. For John Wade, magic was partly a means of escape from an unhappy childhood, a way of empowering himself, a means of earning applause and respect and even love. But at the same time, he took all this to an extreme, trying to control other human beings through acts of deception and trickery. My psychological read on Wade is that he is a guy who needed magic as a way of manipulating an intolerable world, of seeking love through deceitful means. His magic grew into something pathological, a need to fool both himself and others in order to endure his own guilt. I think many human beings on this planet fall into exactly that trap. Politicians among others. That's why I made Wade a politician. That craving for power. That craving for love.

Q: Throughout the narrative, you scatter clues that reinforce different hypotheses. For example, John's memory of standing naked in the lake on the night of Kathy's disappearance suggests that he may in fact have killed her. Did you intend one of your narrator's hypotheses to be "correct"? Or are you rather obeying some literary counterpart of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle and presenting us with a series of alternative truths, mutually exclusive and equally valid?

A: I tried to make each hypothesis plausible. John may have killed Kathy. Or Kathy may have run off with someone else. Or maybe she simply drowned. Or got lost in that vast wilderness. I believed in each hypothesis as I wrote it. I inserted evidence to support each hypothesis - just as life itself gives us contradictory evidence about a great many things. But in the end, it's all a mystery, insoluable, beyond certainty. I mean, listen, if a mystery is solved, it's no longer a mystery! Right? Many readers will probably jump to the obvious and macabre conclusion: John was at My Lai, therefore he murdered his wife. Yet, the search of the cottage produces nothing incriminating. Both Claude and Ruth believe in Wade's innocence. And even Wade himself claims innocence toward the end of the novel. Most novels adhere to a principle of certainty. They show that this happened and then that happened. This book is different. This book is about uncertainty. This book adheres to the principle that much of what is important in the world can never be known. That's what disturbs people. In the Lake of the Woods suggests that the "truth" of our lives is always fragile, always elusive, always beyond the absolute. Frustrating, sure. But that's our human predicament.


"A risky, ambitious, perceptive, engaging, and troubling novel...a major attempt to come to grips with the causes and consequences of the late 20th century's unquenchable appetite for violence, both domestic and foreign." - Chicago Tribune

"A relentless work full of white heat and dark possibility." - The Boston Globe

"At bottom, this is a tale about the moral effects of suppressing a true story, about the abuse of history, about what happens to you when you pretend there is no history." - The New York Times Book Review

"A memorable mystery story charged with haunting ambiguity...If any American novelist is creating more beautifully written, emotionally harrowing tales than Tim O'Brien, I don't know who it could be." - Entertainment Weekly

"An unrelenting exploration of the darkest recesses of the human heart and psyche. O'Brien's approach is bold, ambitious, and intriguing." - Houston Chronicle

"This remarkable book is about the slipperiness of truth, the weight of forgetting, and the way two people disappear into themselves, and, ultimately, into the Lake of the Woods." - The New Yorker

"O'Brien's clean, incantatory prose always hovers on the edge of dream.... No one writes better about the fear and homesickness of a boy adrift amid what he cannot understand, be it combat or love." - Time


  1. Almost from this novel's first page we know that Kathy Wade will vanish, and it is not long before we discover that her disappearance will remain unsolved. What, then, gives In the Lake of the Woods its undeniable suspense? What does it offer in place of the revelations of traditional mysteries?
  2. Instead of a linear narrative, in which action unfolds chronologically, Tim O'Brien has constructed a narrative that simultaneously moves forward and backward in time: forward from John and Kathy's arrival at the cabin; backward into John's childhood, and beyond that to Little Big Horn and the War of Independence. It also moves laterally, into the "virtual" time that is represented by different hypotheses about Kathy's fate. What does the author accomplish with this narrative scheme? In what ways are his different narrative strands connected?
  3. What does O'Brien accomplish in the sections titled "Evidence"? What information do these passages impart that is absent from the straightforward narrative? How do they alter or deepen our understanding of John as a magician, a politician, a husband, and a soldier who committed atrocities in wartime? What connections do they forge between his private tragedy and the pathologies of our public life and history? Does the testimony of (or about) such "real" people as Richard Nixon, William Calley, or George Custer lend greater verisimilitude to John's story or remind us that it--and John himself--are artifices?
  4. Who is the narrator who addresses us in the "Evidence" sections? Are we meant to see him as a surrogate for the author, who also served in Vietnam and revisited Thuan Yen many years after the massacre? (See Tim O'Brien, "The Vietnam in Me," in The New York Times Magazine, October 3, 1994, pp. 48-57.) In what ways does O'Brien's use of this narrator further explode the conventions of the traditional novel?
  5. One of the few things that we know for certain about John is that he loves Kathy. But what does John mean by love? How do John's feelings for his wife resemble his hopeless yearning for his father, who had a similar habit of vanishing? In what circumstances does John say "I love you"? What vision of love is suggested by his metaphor of two snakes devouring each other? Why might Kathy have fallen in love with John?
  6. Although it is easy to see Kathy as the victim of John's deceptions, the author at times suggests that she may be more conscious (and therefore more complex) than she first appears. We learn, for example, that Kathy has always known about John's spying and even referred to him as "Inspector Clouseau," an ironic counterpoint to John's vision of himself as "Sorcerer." At a critical moment she rebuffs her husband's attempt at a confession. And in the final section of "Evidence," we get hints that Kathy may have planned her own disappearance. Are we meant to see Kathy as John's victim or as his accomplice, like a beautiful assistant vanishing inside a magician's cabinet?
  7. Why might John have entered politics? Is he merely a cynical operator with no interest in anything but winning? Or, as Tony Carbo suggests, might John be trying to atone for his actions in Vietnam? Why might the author have chosen to leave John's political convictions a blank?
  8. John's response to the horrors of Thuan Yen is to deny them: "This could not have happened. Therefore it did not." Where else in the novel does he perform this trick? How does John's way of coping with the massacre compare to the psychic strategies adopted by William Calley or Paul Meadlo? Do any of O'Brien's characters seems capable of acknowledging terrible truths directly? How does In the Lake of the Woods treat the matter of individual responsibility for evil?
  9. Each of this novel's hypotheses about events at the cabin begins with speculation but gradually comes to resemble certainty. The narrator suggests that John and Kathy Wade are ultimately unknowable, as well; that any attempt to "penetrate...those leaden walls that encase the human spirit" can never be anything but provisional. Seen in this light, In the Lake of the Woods comes to resemble a magician's trick, in which every assertion turns out to be only another speculation. Given the information we receive, does any hypothesis about what happened at Lake of the Woods seem more plausible than the others? With what certainties, if any, does this novel leave us?


The Things They Carried

What are the things men carry into war? And what is the legacy they they return with? In the title story of this critically acclaimed collection of stories of the Vietnam war, O'Brien goes beyond the physical objects in knapsacks and pockets to explore the emotional baggage of men facing death. "I want you to feel what I felt," he says. "I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth."

"In prose that combines the sharp, unsentimental rhythms of Hemingway with gentler, more lyrical descriptions, Mr. O'Brien gives the reader a shockingly visceral sense of what it felt like to tramp through a booby-trapped jungle. A vital, important book...." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

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In the Lake of the Woods 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 49 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An excellent book which contains many themes relevant to most everyone. It allows the reader the freedom to determine what happened so that there are endless possibilities. The haunting idea that single events follow us till the end is one that which sends chills up my spine. An incredible book which I will be reading again shortly.
RoboJonelle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this novel, from the first page to the last. O'Brien's writing style is very powerful, amazing and sticks with you for a long time after you've finished. The way the book was set up also kept me very intrigued. How he ties in the past with present and what he thinks might has happened to the narrator's wife is done so beautifully and very haunting. The characters are well developed and I found myself getting more attached to them as the book went on. The story was also well developed, and even though you're left with making your own assumptions on what happened to Kathy Wade, it didn't bother me at all that this wonderful novel didn't have a traditional ending.
pluckybamboo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great mystery that offers a dozen different answers but ultimately ends ambiguously, but he open feel only adds to the scintillating mystery. O'Brien's characters are slowly revealed through the chapters as more complex with deeper, darker secrets than you could imagine. One of the best features of this novel is the fact that the landscape, nature, and setting in general all reflect the emotions of the characters and their actions; it even reflects the reader's own suspicions. The symbolism in the lake of the woods--and the woods themselves--is amazing. This novel also begs the question, is a happy ending so difficult to believe in? And why do we need an answer? Isn't the fun of mysteries the not knowing? Once we know the secret to the magic trick, it's not half as charming or clever as we thought...Overall, a great book, if a little chilling. It certainly makes you think (but not overthink).
Whisper1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a real page turner, creatively beautiful and exquisitely styled. It is an exceedingly unsettling and disturbing tale weaving history and mystery together.John Wade, is a 41 year old Viet Nam veteran whose recently failed Minnesota senatorial bid shatters his facade of success. As a child John was an illusionist and as an adult politician he honed these skills.Seeking solace from defeat, John and his wife Kathy vacation in the deep Minnesota woods where John's tether to reality snaps. A veteran of the My Lai massacre, John's flashbacks merge with the present day in a frightening nightmare quality.Late one night while boiling a kettle of water for tea, John decides to boil and kill the houseplants. Mentally disorganized and rapidly deteriorating, he vaguely remembers the possibility of walking down the hall to his wife's bedroom with another pot of boiling water...then awakens the next day to find her gone.O'Brien is masterful in his ability to use the dark woods as a metaphor regarding inner secrets and demons, blending illusion with reality as we walk the slippery path of insanity with John in his search for truth.
elsyd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This novel is put together in way totally new to me. Some chapters are devoted to the story line. Others are Hypothesis, some are Evidence, and others are flash-backs. I ordinarily don't care for mysteries, but I couldn't put this down. Very well done,even though you know the outcome from the very beginning!
jesssh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. An often unsettling and uncertain story that O'Brien executes very well. Beginning with and exploring the issues related to the disappearance of the protagonist's wife in remote Minnesota, the book explores the character's childhood, experience in Vietnam, his marriage, and his political career. The book raises a number of interesting questions about the nature of many relationships, both intimate and otherwise, as well as the nature of memory, issues of loss, and magic, to name a few. A quick, gripping, and provocative read.
blakefraina on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I don't read novels about war. If I am attracted to a book by an interesting cover design and I see the words, "Vietnam War," anywhere on the back cover, I immediately put it down. I found this book at a Goodwill and, despite its subject matter, was intrigued by the plethora of glowing reviews. I am thrilled that I ignored my initial instincts and would gladly read any book written by Tim O'Brien, no matter the topic. From the opening lines, Mr. O'Brien creates an atmosphere of foreboding, of impending horror. His language is spare, yet remarkably poetic. The story of a popular politician who has lost a big election due to the revelation of his involvement in the My Lai massacre plays out slowly, like a mystery. His almost complete denial of his role in the horror illustrates the utter mutability of truth in memory. How we can choose to revise history - our own personal history or the history of a nation. Like the boyhood magician seeking his father's approval, he cultivates a talent for making things conveniently disappear. Even his disillusioned wife -who has either been murdered or, if one chooses to believe the alternative version of her final hours that is presented, has merely drifted away, despairing, into the ether. This book is, at once, disturbing, heartfelt, beautifully written and deeply moving. Truly rates a full five stars.
ericap32 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A gripping and suspenseful exploration of wildnerness, boundaries, and illusion -- literal and psychological. There are many questions raised in this book, and really no conclusive answers. If you like your novels straightforward and pat, give this one a wide berth.If you find yourself drawn to books that explore the motivations (sometimes murky) of characters, feature narrators that may or may not be reliable, and ask tough questions about the reality of our lives (to what extent does illusion actually shape reality? what happens to our illusions/reality when we enter into uncharted territory?), then you will really enjoy this novel.Highly recommended.
BenjaminHahn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The first 40 pages of this book almost had me put the book down. I couldn't stand the "evidence" chapters. They seemed so gimmicky and lazy. I kept reading however and for the most part enjoyed the rest of the story. There are some truly well written passages, but I just couldn't get past the "footnotes as narrative" mechanism for telling this story. Perhaps it¿s the history buff in me. Perhaps it¿s my undergrad memorization of the Chicago Style Writing Manual. Whatever it is, using footnotes to indiscriminately describe fictional and nonfictional elements just irked me. From the get go, I knew that there was not going to be an official ending to this mystery. But by the time I got to the end, Tim O'Brien was inserting footnotes in the "evidence" chapters describing his personal feelings and takes on the characters as if they were real people. This really bothered me because these were fictional characters he created and he seemed to be trying to give us another point of view on them by implying that he really didn't know what they were up to. Post-modern some might say, but as far as story telling goes it was just confusing and it really didn't help me think about it in any new way. It just seemed like poor writing. I will give him this: the character of John Wade was a messed up dude, even before the war. A very convincing creeper. I really couldn't figure out why Kathy was in love with him. He didn't really exhibit any healthy qualities. Perhaps Kathy just found all the stalking and lack of communication romantic? Anyway, the chapters that dealt with the war were the most fascinating to me, and makes me want to read more something nonfiction by Tim O'Brien.Also, the setting of The Lake of the Woods was a good pick and he did a great job of making me feel the emptiness and monotony of the place, in spite of its apparent beauty. I ended up exploring the google earth Lake of the Woods for a good half hour, and indeed it is immense and foreboding. I could easily see someone getting lost in a boat out there. I also liked the cartographic anomaly of ¿The Angle¿ and how this could have been incorporated more into the book.So, what does Mr. O'Brien want us to get out of this story? Some things come to mind: the Vietnam War could make a kinda creepy guy into a really messed up creepy guy; or in the end it doesn't really matter if a guy gets away with murder, there is no point in having closure. Perhaps it is just that society can never be the judge of complex human lives. Was it ambiguity that O¿Brien was going for? Or maybe he just couldn¿t make up his mind.Overall, a pretty good story, scarred by creative yet confusing use of post-modern footnotes.
mikedraper on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's not that long ago that the events surrounding the massacre of My Lai reverberated in the minds of Americans. The men of Charlie Company were sent on a search and destroy mission which got out of hand and resulted in the death of approximately 300 unarmed civilians."In the Lake of the Woods," tells of John and Kathy Wade, who are together at that lake. They are trying to figure out what John will do after a landslide loss in a political campaign. He had been a rising star, politically, being lieutenant governor at age thirty-seven. From this lofty success, he doesn't know how he'll deal with the end of his dreams.The author describes John and Kathy's early life at the U. Minnesota, the letters to Vietnam and his marriage after being discharged.They were offered the cabin after John's staggering political loss. At first things seemed normal. However, John awakens one morning and Kathy has disappeared. Perhaps there was a blackout but John cannot remember what might have caused this.What is interesting is that the author provides various scenarios. Did Kathy run off? Did John kill her and hide the body? Did she have an accident on the lake?With Tim O'Brien's journalistic manner of writing, he describes John's actions while stationed in Vietnam as a member of Charlie Company. The story is filled with quoted statements from other participants in the massacre. This adds realism and makes us wonder what the psychological effect of these actions were on John.John's character is well described as is the setting and historical happenings in Vietnam. Perhaps John is an extreme example of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome which not only caused the downfall of this politician on the rise but led to whatever happened between John and his wife.This dark novel is an imaginative and stimulating portrayal of the aftermath of war and the disolution of a man's spirit and possibly, his life.
elizabethn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
good, with a weirdness to it.
sturlington on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I hesitated about recommending this book, but it is so powerfully written, and some of the scenes ¿ particularly the more horrific ones ¿ are so vivid that I had to recommend it solely on that basis. (I won¿t reveal the particulars of one very powerful scene, but I am sure the grotesque events described in excruciating detail will stay with me for a very long time.)The main problem I had with this book is that it focuses almost completely on two incidents in the main character¿s life: his participation in the massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam War and an incident in an isolated cabin at a northern Minnesota lake many years ago. Granted, these are the pivotal events of John Wade¿s life (as is the suicide of his father, which is also constantly touched upon), but the narrative continually circles these two events, so that after several chapters it feels as if we are going over the same ground over and over again. We crave some new information, and the horror loses its power to horrify, particularly in the Vietnam scenes. The book spirals back out of this pattern at the end when it becomes very dark, very disturbing and very engrossing yet again.Another reason I liked the book was its narrative structure; it reads like the unfinished manuscript of a frustrated true-crime writer. This unnamed writer gradually becomes another character in the story, whose obsession with what happened at the Lake of the Woods and the mystery of Kathy Wade¿s disappearance drives the story forward. At the end, this mystery is never neatly solved, which may annoy some readers, but I enjoyed the ambiguity and the opportunity to make up my own mind about what happened between the husband and wife in the dark night.
CatieN on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A dark and bleak story of one man's fight to stay sane, a man who was damaged by his father's alcoholism and suicide and then further by the Vietnam War, having been with the company that was at Thuan Yen with Lieutenant Calley. When John Wade's wife goes missing, questions and theories abound. This isn't a feel-good book, but it is a thought-provoking book showing the reader that there are many shades of black and white.
nickn54 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is remarkable for several resons: its postmodern narrative; its ability to blend mystery with political and social commentary; and, its presentation of life's complexities, randomness, and uncertainty.This is a great book.
whitewavedarling on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is one of those books that you need to read fairly quickly in order to get the full effect, but it is an easy read with an engaging (if nontraditional) format. O'Brien will draw you in and keep you engaged here, in what you could call nontraditional mystery or literary fiction. If you're looking for entertainment, it's worth a read.
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I LOVE literature and every aspect of it. I, at first thought this book was a weak fact VS. Fiction story, but boy i was wrong! This novel was forced upon me for Eng 102 and i disliked it uptil the middle section. Very detailed, and the ending left it right where it should be. Are you a cynical person who thinks the worst of man, or a humanist who believes there is good in everyone. I truly believe Kath and John made a heaven of a hell and started over in the most oddly profound way. Just my take on it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Your moms execution was poor, this book is amazing
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