Friday, January 30, 2009

Tim O'Brien

A few reasons Tim O'Brien is one of the best writers I've ever read.

(from July, July):

"The reunion dance had started only an hour ago, but already a good many of the dancers were tipsy, and most others were well along, and now the gossip was flowing and confessions were under way and old flames were being extinguished and rekindled under cardboard stars in the Darton Hall College gymnasium."

"'You and me, our whole dreamy generation. Used to be, we'd talk about the Geneva Accords, the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. Now it's down to liposuction and ex-husbands. Can't trust anybody over sixty.' Amy shook her head. For a few seconds she tapped her empty glass against the table. 'And you know the worst part? Here's the absolute worst part. Our old-fogy parents -- yours and mine, everybody's -- they didn't know jack about jack. Couldn't spell Hanoi if you spotted them the vowels. But one thing they did know, they knew damn well where we'd end up. They knew where all the roads go.'"

"It was a vicious summer: frantic music, frantic sex, chemicals in the sugar, felons in the White House, predators in public places, B-52s dropping death all over Southeast Asia. Jan Huebner expected the worst, and 1969 delivered."

"The war went on. People ate Raisin Bran. There were new orphans and widows and Gold Star mothers. Three thousand and twenty American soldiers died that summer, and more than seven thousand Vietnamese. People took aspirin for their headaches. People requested doggie bags at fancy restaurants. Dow Chemical made a killing. From sea to sea, along country roads, in great sleeping cities, there were petty jealousies and grocery lists and erotic fantasies and upset stomachs. The earth kept spinning. In the second week of August, Jan Huebner learned that one of her classmates at Darton Hall had been gravely wounded along a river called the Song Tra Ky. Another classmate now lived in Winnipeg, alone and afraid, nursing grudges that would harden into hatred over the coming decades. Elsewhere, in imagination or in fact, the nation's youth began converging on forty acres of farmland outside Woodstock, New York. Sharon Tate had been dead less than a week. Sanitation workers in Manhattan were sweeping up Neil Armstrong's ticker tape. But for Jan Huebner, as for most others, the summer of 1969 would later call to mind not headlines, nor global politics, not even a war, but small, modest memories of small, modest things: rumpled beds and ringing telephones and birthday cakes and dirty pictures and catchy tunes about everyday people. There was a fatal Ferris wheel accident in Oregon. There were Krazy Day sales on a thousand sun-drenched Main Streets. Jan Huebner met her husband. Summer ended, autumn came. Football season. Darton Hall lost its opener. And while people perished on the far side of the planet, other people had their teeth filled, and filed for divorce, and made love in parked cars. Freshman were oriented. The Mets were on a roll. Small, simple things, yes, but as in some great nationwide darkroom, the most ordinary human snapshots would be fixed in memory by the acidic wash of war -- the music, the lingo, the evening news."


Ben said...

Pretty good stuff. I'm going to have to read some of him.

Lisa said...

Yeah I think you'd like him. I recommend "The Things They Carried" - that's the first one of his I read and it was fantastic. It was a Pulitzer Prize finalist! Although I've read three of his books now and they were all great, so I'm sure you'll be happy with whichever one you choose. :)