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In the Lake of the Woods Paperback – September 1, 1995

4.2 out of 5 stars 277 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Tim O'Brien has been writing about Vietnam in one way or another ever since he served there as an infantryman in the late 1960s. His earliest work on the subject, If I Die in a Combat Zone, was an intensely personal memoir of his own tour of duty; his books since then have featured many of the same elements of fear, boredom, and moral ambiguity but in a fictional setting. In 1994 O'Brien wrote In the Lake of the Woods, a novel that, while imbued with the troubled spirit of Vietnam, takes place entirely after the war and in the United States. The main character, John Wade, is a man in crisis: after spending years building a successful political career, he finds his future derailed during a bid for the U.S. Senate by revelations about his past as a soldier in Vietnam. The election lost by a landslide, John and his wife, Kathy, retreat to a small cabin on the shores of a Minnesota lake--from which Kathy mysteriously disappears.

Was she murdered? Did she run away? Instead of answering these questions, O'Brien raises even more as he slowly reveals past lives and long-hidden secrets. Included in this third-person narrative are "interviews" with the couple's friends and family as well as footnoted excerpts from a mix of fictionalized newspaper reports on the case and real reports pertaining to historical events--a mélange that lends the novel an eerie sense of verisimilitude. If Kathy's disappearance is at the heart of this work, then John's involvement in a My Lai-type massacre in Vietnam is its core, and O'Brien uses it to demonstrate how wars don't necessarily end when governments say they do. In the Lake of the Woods may not be true, but it feels true--and for Tim O'Brien, that's true enough. --Alix Wilber

From Publishers Weekly

A politician's career is ruined overnight by revelations of his wartime participation in a village massacre in Vietnam while his personal life is undone by the sudden dissappearance of his wife.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (September 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140250948
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140250947
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (277 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #808,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

TIM O'BRIEN received the 1979 National Book Award in fiction for Going After Cacciato. His other works include the acclaimed novels The Things They Carried and July, July. In the Lake of the Woods received the James Fenimore Cooper Prize from the Society of American Historians and was named the best novel of 1994 by Time. O'Brien lives in Austin, Texas.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on January 1, 2003
Format: Paperback
I first read this book about 5 years ago, and ended up debating it for weeks with folks in my office. I recently picked it up again, & found it just as haunting, compelling & intriguing. I did, though, take away a different feel from the book than I had the first time I read it.
It is no spoiler that the author does not solve the book's central mystery: the author tells you that if you want answers, "read another book." Readers can reach different conclusions as to the fate of Kathy Wade. Indeed, if my own experience is any guage, the same reader can reach a different conclusion on subsequent readings.
This book will mean different things to different people. For some, it is a mystery; for others, a dark love story; for others, it is a tale of Vietnam.
O'Brien's devices - the Evidence & Hypothesis chapters interspersed throughout the book - work fabulously. The Evidence chapters give a variety of outside perspectives which inform, or offer differing views, if not explanations, on the text, which jumps back & forth itself between the present & various points in the past. The Hypothesis chapters propose alternative answers to the central riddle.
O'Brien's clear prose is made more interesting, because the reader knows he is only getting one sliver, one part of the whole picture, and may be more or less "true".
If you have not read this book, do so. If you have, read it again: you will be amazed, entranced again -- & it may be a whole new experience for you.
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Format: Paperback
I regard this book with awe and reverance, like a book of sorcerer spells. Engaging in it is like falling asleep in the midst of a 103 degree fever.
In the Lake of the Woods could be considered both a mystery and a horror novel, but not for the usual reasons; the literary modes which make it an enigmatic, mind-boggling nightmare are its imagery and themes. This book tied my mind in magical knots which kalidescopically changed shape, leaving my brain fried and soul nourished.
Fan's of O'Brien won't be surprised to find that he is up to his old tricks. In the Lake of the Woods begins with a title which states that Tim O'Brien is the author. Immediately before the first chapter, there is a curious second title without O'Brien's name attached to it. By the commentary provided in footnotes, the reader soon learns that O'Brien wants to make it clear that someone else wrote this story in an attempt to figure out the mystery of John and Kathy Wade. This fact confounds an easy understanding of the novel; the narrator's position must be always be taken into account.
In the Lake of the Woods is O'Brien's portrayal of a historian or biographer's attempt at piecing together the mystery of the disappearance of Kathy Wade. Kathy's husband, John, recently lost a primary election to become Minnessota's Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate after his involvement in the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam was revealed to the public. In an attempt to relax and leave the limelight, the Wade's hole up in a cottage in a remote region of Minnesota lake country. One morning, after a temporary lapse of judgement and memory the night before, John Wade wakes to find his wife missing. It is here that the mystery begins.
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Format: Paperback
I bought the hardcover when it was published but it took me five years to actually sit down and read it. I read "If I Die In A Combat Zone" as a high school junior in 1980, and have bought and read Tim O'Brien books ever since. Why did it take so long to read? Reading Tim O'Brien requires concentration and an emotional space where you can reflect on his message. I didn't want to read it when I was in a great mood because I knew it would bring me down. Similarly, I didn't want to read it when I was depressed because I wouldn't be able to appreciate his understated message of hope for the human heart. So I waited until I was on a pretty even keel yet also feeling introspective.
This is not a book for anyone seeking easy answers. I am often frustrated reading authors who present one dimensional characters who are entirely predictable and understandable. How many people are really like that? The most interesting people are enigmatic, and this book presents hypothesis rather than solutions. I would have felt let down by a stock dime store ending where the author tied up all the loose ends and left me nothing to reflect upon.
Tim O'Brien's message is that the questions he presents the reader are more important than any answer that he might propose. How well does one person truly know another? Why do our loved ones love us? Are we defined by our history, or may we transcend it?
Thank you, Tim O'Brien, for not attempting to answer these questions for me. Thank you also for giving me a framework to ponder them.
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Format: Paperback
Of the four Tim O'brien books I've read, this one was the best. So compelling and shocking that I was forced to put the book down more than once just to get myself together. In his classic style, the reader spends two thirds of the book struggling to piece together what's really going on from what's going on in the character's mind. The book assumes a quality not unlike being suspended between dreaming and awake, a confusing arena where one sees parts of themselves they never knew, or perhaps wished never, existed.
Though the book is touted mostly as a "Vietnam" book, it really focuses on the dark side of all of us and only uses the Vietnam card as a starting point for his own personal horrors. The book speaks just as well to anyone who has haunting skeletons in the closet from past adventures and experiences. Creepy. Absolutely compelling story.
Where most authors struggle to provide one or two good insights into human nature and the truth of life, O'brien pinpoints at least a dozen zingers. This was perhaps my favorite book of all time.
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