Tim O'Brien has done what many authors aspire to do. He has put his readers in the middle of a war and pumped fear through their veins. The Things They Carried grips you with the detail of war and the effects it has on a human being. The wear and tear that a soldier endures in the field takes its toll on the reader. The feeling of being part of a platoon in Vietnam thrusts you into a new world where you experience feelings normally only known by soldiers.
One of the techniques O’Brien uses to create this sensation is delivering stories several times from different perspectives. This shift gives the reader a feel of the universal truth behind the stories. O'Brien has the courage to tell the stories just as they are. He makes the descriptions personal, so the whole truth gets to you.
O’Brien does a good job of letting the reader know what was really going on in his mind, as well as in his peers' minds. He doesn't suggest he was a war hero. Instead, he just tells the reader how he's dealing with the after-effects of war. He is very honest about wanting revenge, and how he felt guilty for killing a young man. He also does very good job of describing many different types of love.
The flow of the book and the use of regional and time-specific vocabulary can make this a difficult read. The narrative jumps around from one story to the next, and then back to an earlier time; this can be confusing. Military terms like V.C., A.O., and L.Z. are not defined for the reader. But the book tells you how it was. O'Brien doesn't concern himself with the exact truth; he is aiming for the kind of reality, the kind of sensation, the kind of experience that builds up through many perspectives.
It is a truly awesome book.
"O'Brien succeeds as well as any writer in conveying the free-fall sensation of fear and surrealism of combat." - Time