In the Lake of the Woods

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Overview

On a lake deep in Minnesota's north woods, John and Kathy Wade are trying to reassemble their lives. John, a rising political star, has just suffered a devastating electoral defeat. Kathy attempts to comfort her husband, but soon it becomes apparent that something is horribly wrong between them, that they have hidden too much from each other. Then one day Kathy vanishes. Their boat is gone - did she drown or is she lost? Or did she flee, disappearing into a new life? As a massive search gets under way, the ...
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Overview

On a lake deep in Minnesota's north woods, John and Kathy Wade are trying to reassemble their lives. John, a rising political star, has just suffered a devastating electoral defeat. Kathy attempts to comfort her husband, but soon it becomes apparent that something is horribly wrong between them, that they have hidden too much from each other. Then one day Kathy vanishes. Their boat is gone - did she drown or is she lost? Or did she flee, disappearing into a new life? As a massive search gets under way, the possibilities multiply in terrifying directions. Uncovering the truth requires an investigation of Wade's life, and gradually we come to see that he is a sorcerer lost inside his own magic, a Houdini capable of escaping everything but the chains of his darkest secret.

The author of The Things They Carried offers a riveting novel of love and mystery. 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
O'Brien Going After Cacciato ; The Things They Carried is trying desperately to escape from Vietnam--and failing. In this beautifully written, often haunting, but ultimately disappointing book, that conflict continues to drag at the life of John Wade, an upwardly mobile politician and senatorial candidate. The revelation that he was present at a Vietnamese village massacre read My Lai and had artfully buried that fact derails his political career overnight, and he flees with his much-loved wife, Kathy, to a remote hideaway in Minnesota's north woods. One morning he awakes, after a night of terrible visions, to find her gone. A huge search fails to locate her, and police suspicion turns on Wade. Then he too disappears. Ever a man who loved tricks and mystery, known to his Army buddies as Sorcerer, has Wade always lived a lie? Did he kill Kathy and put her body in the lake? Did they escape their problems together? O'Brien openly asks the reader such questions, in a series of rhetorical footnotes that amount to an uncomfortable authorial intrusion. An ongoing series of chapters with quotes from My Lai testimony, books on magic, General Custer, military violence and opinions of people in the book about what really happened with John and Kathy goes seriously astray. These faults distract from, but cannot completely offset, the power of O'Brien's narrative, his affinity for abnormal psychological states, his remarkable painting of the hostile autumn solitudes. It seems like a book that needed more work to live up to its best, and perhaps editor Seymour Lawrence's death last winter deprived it of that. If so, a stark pity; but O'Brien remains a terrific writer. 75,000 first printing; author tour. Oct.
Library Journal
O'Brien, winner of a National Book Award for Going After Cacciato 1978, has written his most accessible novel to date. John and Kathy Wade are a young, idealistic couple living the American Dream until John's bid for the U.S. Senate is trashed by media reports of his involvement in the infamous massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam War. Still very much in love but without direction for the first time in their marriage, John and Kathy flee to a remote cabin. When Kathy disappears without a trace, a massive but fruitless search ensues. Did John murder her or did she simply flee? O'Brien develops several maddeningly plausible explanations, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions in this dark but wonderful novel that should gain him a host of new fans. For fiction collections both large and small. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/94.]-Mark Annichiarico, "Library Journal"
New York Times Books of the Century
...[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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140250947
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/28/1995
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 7.72 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

Tim O'Brien

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.

Biography

Tim O'Brien has said it was cowardice -- not courage -- that led him, in the late 1960s, to defer his admittance into Harvard in favor of combat in Vietnam. The alternatives of a flight to Canada or a moral stand in a U.S. jail were too unpopular.

He has since explored the definitions of courage -- moral, physical, political -- in his fiction, a body of work that has, at least until recently, dealt almost exclusively with America's most unpopular war and its domestic consequences. His first book, If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home looked at the war through a collection of war vignettes that he had written for newspapers in his home state of Minnesota, and his second book was a novel, Northern Lights, that he later decried as overly long and Hemingwayesque -- almost a parody of the writer's war stories.

His third book, Going After Cacciato in 1978 does not suffer such criticism from the author. Or, for that matter, from the critics. Grace Paley praised the novel -- which follows the journey of a soldier who goes AWOL from Vietnam and walks to Paris -- as "imaginative" in The New York Times. And the book became a breakthrough critical success for O'Brien, the start of a series that would give him the unofficial title as our pre-eminent Vietnam storyteller. Cacciato even won the prestigious National Book Award for fiction in 1979, beating out John Irving's The World According to Garp.

"Going After Cacciato taunts us with many faces and angles of vision," Catherine Calloway wrote in the 1990 book America Rediscovered: Critical Essays on Literature and Film of the Vietnam War. "The protagonist Paul Berlin cannot distinguish between what is real and what is imagined in the war just as the reader cannot differentiate between what is real and what is imagined in the novel... Paul Berlin is forced, as is the reader, into an attempt to distinguish between illusion and reality and in doing so creates a continuous critical dialogue between himself and the world around him."

Born in Austin, Minn., to an insurance salesman and schoolteacher, O'Brien grew up as a voracious reader but didn't find the courage to write until his experiences in Vietnam. After the war, he studied at the Harvard University's School of Government and was a staff reporter at The Washington Post in the early 1970s. He writes from early in the morning until the evening and has a reputation for discarding long passages of writing because he finds the effort substandard. He also can do extensive revisions of his books between editions.

His follow-up to Cacciato, 1981's The Nuclear Age, had a draft dodger find his fortune in the uranium business though he is consistently plagued by dreams of nuclear annihilation. Critics labeled it a misstep. But his subsequent effort, The Things They Carried, a collection of short stories about Vietnam, reaffirmed his reputation as a Vietnam observer. "By moving beyond the horror of the fighting to examine with sensitivity and insight the nature of courage and fear, by questioning the role that imagination plays in helping to form our memories and our own versions of truth, he places The Things They Carried high up on the list of best fiction about any war," The New York Times said in March of 1990. And his next novel, In the Lake of the Woods, another Vietnam effort, won the top spot on Time's roster of fiction for 1994.

In Lake, Minnesota politician John Wade, whose career has suffered a major setback with the revelation of his participation in the notorious My Lai massacre from the Vietnam War, retreats to his cabin with wife Kathy, who later disappears. The Times Literary Supplement said it was perhaps his "bleakest novel yet" and that "the most chilling passages are not those which deal with guns and gore in Vietnam but those set in Minnesota many years later, revealing a people at ease but never at peace." Pico Lyer, writing in Time, said "O'Brien manages what he does best, which is to find the boy scout in the foot soldier, and the foot soldier in every reader."

O'Brien's more recent efforts -- his sexual comedy of manners Tomcat in Love and July, July, which centers on a high-school reunion of the Vietnam set -- have not received the high praise of his earlier efforts. But O'Brien has said he is not writing for the critics, noting that Moby Dick was loathed upon its release.

"I don't get too excited about bad reviews or good ones," he told Contemporary Literature in 1991. "I feel happy if they're good, feel sad if they're bad, but the feelings disappear pretty quickly, because ultimately I'm not writing for my contemporaries but for the ages, like every good writer should be. You're writing for history, in the hope that your book -- out of the thousands that are published each year -- might be the last to be read a hundred years from now and enjoyed."

Good To Know

O'Brien was stationed in the setting of the infamous My Lai massacre a year after it occurred.

His father wrote personal accounts of World War II for The New York Times.

O'Brien's book The Things They Carried was a contender as Washington D.C. looked in 2002 to find a book for its campaign to have the entire city simultaneously reading the same book.

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    1. Also Known As:
      William Timothy O’Brien
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 1, 1946
    2. Place of Birth:
      Austin, Minnesota
    1. Education:
      B.A., Macalester College, 1968; Graduate study at Harvard University

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

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.

ABOUT THE TITLE

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW

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.

PRAISE

"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

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  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?

RELATED TITLES

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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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 5, 2009

    In the Lake of the Woods review by samuel Goichman

    In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien was a well crafted tale [much like O'Briens other books] about a former Vietnam Veteran, who later turns into a politician who ran for governor. The loss of his wife in The Lake Of The Woods, damages him mentaly which then leads you to be sucked into his thoughts about the possible reasons for her leaving, and the events that might have occured which would result in her loss. Each character represents a part of O'Brien, and the loss of that part during the war. All of his books involve the Vietnam war which was a major part in O'briens life. In The Lake of the Woods is no exception and still remains in a very high standard.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2001

    Lake of the Woods

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2013

    OutCast

    Shook out her pelt and bounded back to camp. [Kk.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2013

    DeepThorn

    He smiled and gingerly jumped off,"all done." [Gtg bb asap. I'll be at main camp though]

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2012

    Good novel, not my ordinary read

    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

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2012

    @ review #1

    Your moms execution was poor, this book is amazing

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  • Posted August 30, 2011

    Slow

    I found this book to be a tad slow and boring. The story itself was a good one but it's execution was poor.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2008

    Stunning

    This book will absolutely twist and turn you. O'brien's unique style is perpetually engaging to the point I could not put the book down. This unimaginable book has completely changed my perspective as a reader

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2007

    absolutely original: unique format

    I read an exerpt of one of O'Brian's works in English and became interested in reading Lake of the Woods. It's an interesting read, definitely, and does not follow the format of a conventional suspense mystery. The chapters alternate between 'evidence' and 'hypothesis.' The evidence chapters present actual pieces of evidence regarding the crime, and the hypothesis chapters are O'Brian's idea of what could have happened. For the first few chapters, I'll admit I only skimmed the evidence chapters, but as you proceed through the story, the evidence chapters are what makes the book. In the Lake of the Woods is an amazing blend of historical fiction and murder mystery. Granted, the disturbing stories regarding the My Lai massacre and the background on the main character's childhood are not what a reader expects from a suspense novel. However, O'Brian takes a fresh approach, delving deep into the pschye of a disturbed man, trying to make sense of his life experiences and most definitely succeeds in doing so.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2006

    Quite boring

    This book was alright but it was very slow and boring. There was just too many interviews and stuff. You would think this kind of story would be suspenseful but in my opinion, it wasn't. I wouldn't reccomend this book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2004

    O'Brien great author- for first time reader of his work!

    My first reaction to the book 'In the Lake of the Woods' was that I didn't want to read but it was an assignment.So , I forced myself to read it than when i got to about the 3rd chapter 'The Nature of loss', I couldn't put it down, I took it with me everywhere I went.Well, expect the bathroom.LOL! At some parts I was offended and frustrated at what John said or did, but than I got over it because I wanted to get to the ending and know what happened to Kathy. It's a great book and I will read others. I do recommended this award winning book to others if they are into a true story about the abuse of history. And what happens to you when you pretend to much in real life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2004

    Don't Read this Book!

    Quite simply, this is the worst book I've ever read. If my English teacher would not have assigned this book, I would have put it down after the fourth page.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2002

    In the Lake of the Woods

    I was unable to put this book down. I felt myself being drawn into the characters more than ever before. John and Kathy are the perfect couple, despite their twisted tendencies. The images of Thuan Yen are haunting, yet oddly beautiful. This is a book I could read many times over.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2001

    Brilliant!

    When you or your children were young, odds are that you read at least one Choose Your Own Adventure book. Remember those? You would read through and choose whatever ending that you saw fit. Tim O'Brien crafts an adult Choose Your Own Adventure novel in The Lake Of The Woods. This novel was assigned to my literature class this past semester, and I can honestly say that it was the first novel that I not only read because I had to, but also because I enjoyed it. The author does not answer questions, but asks them. He opens doors for the reader to walk through. Ten differrent people could read this book and arrive at twenty different conclusions. The novel begins, and can get, rather confusing. But stay with it, you will be glad that you did.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2000

    Classic O'Brien

    In The Lake of the Woods is a profoundly astute novel. O'Brien's character development is given in a rather unusual way, yet he manages to give the reader their own perception of the lead characters. It is truly a book that can not be put down, it envelops the reader in the story. The powerful imagery and strong use of detail take the reader straight to Vietnam, they stand beside him as he surveys Thuan Yen. You begin to feel that you know the characters on a personal level. O'Brien's characteristic writing style keeps the reader on their toes until the end of the novel, where all the pieces of the puzzle finally fit together. It is where 'the mystery finally claims us'. An imaginitive book, most definately a must read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2000

    An Awesome work of Fiction

    Tim O'Brien is one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century. He is compelling and subtle. In the Lake of the Woods is a novel, not about plot and character so much as life itself. O'Brien has a way of getting to the heart of the rhetorical questions of everybody. He draws you in to the novel with a force so strong that it cannot be put down. He leaves you without answers, and yet you are satisfied at the end. John and Kathy Wade, a young couple, are staying in a cabin at the edge of Lake of the Woods. John has just lost a major election because of his role in Vietnam, and the two are trying to escape from life. Then Kathy mysteriously disappears. This novel is like a winding snake through exerpts from interviews and books, both real and fake, pertaining to them, and also through various hypotheses reguarding the whereabouts of Kathy. A novel that must be read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2000

    Book works at many levels

    The genius of this book is how it forces the reader to examine all those things that are so important to us as human beings: who we are, what our relationships are with others (especially significant others), the nature of good and evil, our endless fascination with the idea of mystery. Tim O'Brien manages this with a haunting economy of writing that not only contributes to the 'thriller' aspect of this novel, but is also evocative and and riveting. A must-read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews

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