In a break from our fantasy theme of the last few weeks, normalcy was resumed with Tim O’Brien’s ‘The Things They Carried’ at this week’s writing class. Jumping from fairy tales to the Vietnam war may seem like quite a change in pace, but given the dark grizzly origins of fairy tales that I have become enlightened of in the last few weeks, it’s actually quite refreshing to read something that’s actually about what it purports to be, rather than something darker hiding under whimsical fluffiness.
It also meant that I was back on solid ground. Real people, real problems and real emotions. Or at least as real as you can get in fiction anyway. But as Tim O’Brien says, it’s all about truth of one form or another.
I have to admit that I’ve never read any of his work before, and while my class mates were grumbling about being weighed down by his lists of items carried and his need to inform the reader of the weight of each item, I was lapping it up. I guess the rest of the class and I are never going to be on quite the same page.
To me the purpose of the lists of items and weights made perfect sense. It helped me to paint a picture of the characters and what their lives, at least in a tiny way, were like. I have no idea what a soldier carried and many of the items in the lists have no bearing on what I know. I can’t relate to them, I may have seen some in an old war film and can vaguely recall or imagine what they look like, but what do they feel like?
What I loved most about this story though, is the way he describes the emotions that they carry. Something about writing it in this way just seemed to resonate with me. It made it more real to me. A battle in a far off land, under conditions I have no experience of (and pray that I never do), somehow became real and almost tangible in a way that no war film or story has for me before.
It was also incredibly inspiring. It started me thinking of how I can incorporate more emotions into my own work. What do my characters carry with them, not into battle, but into their every day lives?
Whilst books, films and music are often get sources of inspiration for this aspiring author, I've never been moved quite so dramatically before.