At the same time, the style is expected to give the reader an idea of what is happening, and that too in a more refined version. In his language there are poetic references for the brutality and masculinity of war as feminine features. He has talked about the "star shaped hole" and this reminds most about the American flag as also the expectation of the country to kill and destroy for the country.
At the same time, the language is graphic enough to indicate the bloodshed that is going on all around. All combined these bring out the emotion draining nature of war. These probably reflect that O'Brien probably could not come to terms with war, which was expected of him, but was not possible due to the voice of his conscience. The sum total is that he was able to match the image of being a part of the killers that was expected. This is also a reflection on his personal vulnerability and insecurity that haunted him through the war. This reflects the character of a storyteller and social critic, which is probably what he wants to be. This enables him to convince people into believing that his works are fictions rather then real accounts of war. (Vietnam: A watershed in war writing)
The relationship of O'Brien and My Lai goes back for a number for years as he had served in a combat unit there one year after the infamous massacre. This experience is reflected in if I die in a combat zone, Box me up and Ship me home. He had gone through a lot of information before he wrote "In the lake of the Woods" and this had convinced him that the incident in My Lai was a "grotesque, monstrous, obscene evil" and yet he was sad to note that not many Americans are still shameful about the obscene incident. He felt that Americans have forgotten the lessons of Vietnam as also My Lai. He has written in "The Vietnam in me" as "All this is history. Dead as those dead women and kids" the memory lives on in his writings though forgotten as the history of My Lai. This will not happen for the readers of "In the lake of the Woods" for the description of the butchery that took place is defined by the author in a very graphic manner. The butchery that took place at My Lai should remain a constant prick in the heart of America about the Vietnam War. (My Lai, Flies, and Beelzebub in Tim O'Brien's in the Lake of the Woods)
O'Brien has constantly continued his demand for well told stories about Vietnam and this is through the quality and quantity of his own work. He has also asserted that if all the events in Vietnam were reflected as war fiction, then it would be very difficult to write down all the destruction that took place during that combat. This happening is due to the eyes of the soldiers being blinded by the expectation of certain events expected at the end of the war, and this stopped them from recognizing individual events as important. O'Brien has said himself that whether the incident actually took place or not is not relevant for war stories. There has to be a continuing element of fiction, and the events that occurred in Vietnam should be seen in light of the total happenings. This makes some critics say that some of his writings are really a continuation of other events and the example is "The Things They Carried." This is a reworking of "How to tell a true war story." (Vietnam: A watershed in war writing) at the same time, the author has suggested that war stories always try to find out the truth and this is what leads to the continuous repetition of events that have taken place. The repetition still ends up telling people of the impact of the devastation of war in terms of men and material. (Vietnam: A watershed in war writing)
Finally let us look at the recognition that he has received and his reputation has been increasing continuously. His novel regarding Vietnam "Going after Cacciato" got a national Book Award in 1978. This was followed up in 1991 with the nomination for a Pulitzer Prize for the collection of his short stories "The Things They Carried." This was also nominated for the National Critics Award. The success led the critics to say that he was considered to be the best among the veterans from Vietnam who have started writing to reflect their war experiences. His fifth book, "In the lake of Woods" was called as the best work of fiction in 1994 by Time magazine and also awarded the James Fennimore cooper prize for historical fiction during 1995. These awards are a reflection that he has the best standing as the finest writer regarding Vietnam among all Americans. He has continued returning to that theme and "In the lake of woods" he has again gone back to the malignant effect that the war produced on American soldiers. That particular novel has been acclaimed by the reviewers and critics, yet it is probably his bleakest novel. (My Lai, Flies, and Beelzebub in Tim O'Brien's in the Lake of the Woods)
This is due to the author's use of My Lai events as the central event in the novel. This is courageous as no American author before him had used this story as the base for their novels or any work of fiction. With the use of this image, the author succeeds in getting to new levels in American fiction using Vietnam, but also succeeds in making a lynchpin. The incident is dramatized and also the corrosive effect stops the unsuccessful attempts to repress the evil that was witnessed by a character at My Lai. This desire to forget the My Lai atrocity among Americans has been realized by the author, but it is doubtful whether any reader of "In the lake of the woods" can ever forget the atrocities. (My Lai, Flies, and Beelzebub in Tim O'Brien's in the Lake of the Woods) Thus it may be said that he is one of the bright stars reflecting present day America, but whether his literary qualities are up to the mark or not, only history will decide.
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Timmerman, John. H. Tim O'Brien and the Art of the True War Story: 'Night March' and 'Speaking of Courage' - Critical Essay. Twentieth Century Literature. Spring, 2000.
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Vietnam: A watershed in war writing. Retrieved at http://www.americansc.org.uk/Online/Richardhills.htm. Accessed on 30 May, 2005
Wesley, Marilyn. Truth and fiction in Tim O'Brien's if I die in a Combat Zone and the Things They Carried. College Literature. Spring, 2002.
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