Tim O’Brien’s Enthralling Novel
In The Lake Of The Woods is a gripping tale unlike most novels you’ve read.
First, “Lake of the Woods” is a real lake in northern Minnesota – the state known as the “land of 10,000 lakes.” Second, note the book title: “in” the lake. Remember this.
Sometimes a book comes along and just knocks your socks off – even if it’s been on your bookshelf, unread, for a few years. That’s what happened to me with Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods.
I’d read O’Brien’s incredibly successful first novel, Going After Cacciato, many years ago – maybe close to when it was published in 1978. Going captured the absurdity of war, in this instance the Vietnam War, and warmed the hearts of all the GIs who served then. We knew. We had read the famed anti-war novel of the Second World War, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Since then, of course, with lessons that remained unlearned from Vietnam about unwinnable wars, the military has finally re-established its sense of honor and bravery as American soldiers fought the endless Afghanistan War – but it was yet another Pyrrhic victory.
O’Brien followed Cacciato with a short story collection, The Things They Carried, but left the jungles and troops mostly behind with In the Lake of the Woods. It’s an incredibly sad novel, because it is about love, and ego, and politics, and nature. Yet it’s eminently readable because the story is so well told. I can’t recall a novel in which the author weaves his tale with such finesse, suggesting and hinting and inferring and, yes, tantalizing the reader to try to get a handle on what’s going on. O’Brien uses his formidable skills as a writer to keep us pursuing the truth about John and Kathy. Even as we are enthralled by their abiding love for one another, with every page we have to question the secrets they so ardently keep from one another. What a story. What writing. VERY highly recommended.
P.S. I love O’Brien’s bio slug: “Graduation in 1968 found him with a BA in political science and a draft notice.”