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In the Lake of the Woods Paperback – September 1, 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (September 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 061870986X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618709861
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (245 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers 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.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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

I ended up really liking the book and enjoyed reading it, even if it was required.
Thomas P. Morris Jr.
I liked the format of the book with alternating chapters of story, evidence, and hypothesis.
It was a very sad book, and somewhat disturbing but it was well written and I enjoyed it.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 43 people found the following review helpful 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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56 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Frato on March 7, 2001
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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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan B Whitcomb on October 25, 1999
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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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Adam Dukovich on February 28, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I wouldn't hesitate to put this book in O'Brien's top 3, along with The Things they Carried and Going After Cacciato. The story revolves around Minnesota Lieutenant Governor and Senate Candidate John Wade, who loses a brutal race in which it is divulged that he participated in the infamous My Lai massacre 30 years earlier. His political career over and future stalled, he decides to spend a little time with his wife in a small lodge in the wilderness. Before long, she goes missing, and a cloud of suspicion descends over him.

Everything to like about O'Brien is here: his mastery of language and knowledge of humanity. Here, he looks at how secrets can affect us and how devastating denial can be. We all have loose threads in the tapestry of our lives, but if we ignore them, the entire thing can unravel. Plus, this functions as a closer look at the kinds of people you find in government: hopelessly insecure, traumatized, power-hungry. This is not to say that Wade was a bad man, but he did have problems.

As for Wade himself, I found him pitiable. He certainly was not an angel--he spied on his wife, lied to her, lied to everyone, and hurt a lot of people. He didn't want to get into politics to help people, but rather to indulge his own tastes. However, the humiliation heaped upon him is more than anyone should have to bear. I am of the opinion that Wade did not have anything to do with the disappearance, although it is a trick worthy of his magician self--make the lady disappear.

Overall, I found the book very enlightening and enjoyable, far better than The Nuclear Age, the last O'Brien book I read. This marks a return to form for the incomparable Tim O'Brien.
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