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Friday, January 15, 2010

"Going After Cacciato" Once and For All...

Tim O'Brien was hot stuff in the peak of Vietnam War interest back in the early and mid 1980s. His novels--at least the ones that deal with the war--carry within them a realism hard to match, and a level of understanding of the human condition only Jung and Freud could top. That is not to say that his novels are mere psychological examinations; their quality really stem from their arresting power to convey a truth so palpable the only thing missing is the actual experience of going to war in real life. My first book by Tim O'Brien was "If I Die in a Combat Zone." This novel is an excellent tale of philosophical questioning, existential analysis and downright a firestone of personal ethics. The protagonist weighs his position after being drafted of whether or not to go to Vietnam or flee to Canada. But this is only a small part of the novel, really. After this book, I read "The Things They Carried" and taught some of those excellent short stories various times in the classroom; particularly, "The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong." Having been in to some curious and apparently useless bellicose "parties" while in the United States Marines, I can tell you what they DON'T carry into combat. But that's a story for another day. These are vivid stories, not so much interlocking but close enough to convey a beautiful (and terrible) sense of what it means to be in a hopeless situation (read, Vietnam).

Now, finally, I have picked up "Going After Cacciato." This book was recommended to me by a close friend in 1993 and I ignored the recommendation (at my own risk) until today. The story seems to take from Beckett the absurd, from Joyce the intricate form, and from Dali descriptive scenes that defy the mere suspension of disbelief. The plot is about a platoon squad, led by an old demoted officer, and their pursue of one named Cacciato who decides one fine day in Vietnam to walk all the way to Paris, France. Right now, I am roughly on page 95, so another entry on these little jewel of a book will be forthcoming.

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