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57 of 60 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A nightmare you'll love and hate
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...
Published on March 7, 2001 by Patrick Frato

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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I was disappointed with this book.
This novel does not have enough thematic substance or emotional resonance to carry our interest. The symbolism is heavy handed and the protagonist lacks sympathy. His parents are charicatures, as are the other supporting characters. Kathy, the missing wife, is not developed as a character enough nor is their marriage compelling enough to induce our interest in their fate...
Published on November 19, 1997


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57 of 60 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A nightmare you'll love and hate, March 7, 2001
By 
Patrick Frato (oxford, OH United States) - See all my reviews
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. The narrator compiles evidence, the history of the Wades, and hypotheses in an attempt to find the truth behind why this happened. However, an even greater mystery is presented within the first couple of pages when the narrator, in a footnote, states that he still doesn't know what happened to Kathy Wade. This suggests that the book is about more than just Kathy Wade's disappearance.
This novel could be read as a thriller, except that as soon as the dramatized scenes get moving, a new chapter filled with exposition, "evidence", or a "Hypothesis" begins. Tripping up the action serves to get the reader on the thematic track that O'Brien intended and to make it clear that the plot is not the major concern of the novel.
When the pieces of the puzzle begin to come together, this is a novel about human nature, what we consider love, how we seek out love, how we fall in love or become obsessed, comparisons between love and obsession, how we fall in love or become obsessed with people by projecting our dreams onto them in an attempt to solve their mystery, how we are mysteries to ourselves, and how our secret selves can be destructive. It is also a story within a story about the morality of attempting to discover truth by recreating a story.
Engage this novel with the intensity that it deserves. After your fever drops and the nightmares end, you may see your own reflection in the lake of the woods.
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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chilling, even on re-reading, January 1, 2003
By A Customer
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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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Give yourself space to appreciate this novel., October 25, 1999
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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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars OBrien's Best Book, February 2, 2000
By 
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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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of Tim O'Brien's In the lake of the woods, April 23, 2001
By 
I'd like my first comment to be an overall five stars, you've got to read this book type of comment. Reading this book for a class, I had to stop at a certain page, which was one of the hardest things for me to do; it's a page-turner, but not like trashy books. This is literature at its best, in unconventional form.
Tim O'Brien captures in this book the moral dilemmas of the Vietnam War as well as the moral dilemmas as a modern human, as a politician, as a lover, as a husband, and as a possible murderer. This worldview is on the nature of our humanity and our motivations, and some people think it's pretty glum.
I read a "warning" from a teacher's community of reviewers and they described the book as "vulgar" and "gruesome." This is not a horror story. It's more the account of what maybe took place at one time in our history in Vietnam. Although the placement of our character John Wade was in "My Lai" which is an actual part of Vietnam, but perhaps a more symbolic motion to remind the reader that this is fiction, we can't forget that our author was a part of Vietnam and probably has a good notion of the type of violence that went on there; after all who could be more accurate then somebody who has actually been there? Though the novel has been blamed for confusing fact and fiction, there is a disclaimer in the front of the novel affirming that it is a work of fiction and must be read that way. If the reader does not do what the reader is told, the there will be disappointment from the ambiguous ending of what really happened. Tim O'Brien was asked about the truth of this novel and responded, "The literal truth is ultimately to me irrelevant . . . what matter is what happens in our hearts." When reading this book it's evident, this work is from his heart, and the ultimate truth, or lack of it in this novel, is completely irrelevant because it's not what the book is about. He didn't sit down to write about a murderer, or an escaped wife, he was writing people, and if they fascinate you, then this book will too.
The tone of the book could be taken as rage and the themes could be explained as the lack of truth and hope and meaning in life. There does seem to be a distorted view of marriage and sex and love since John Wade does stalk his girlfriend-turned-wife and perhaps kills her? But the question isn't answered, so no reader can assume, and Tim O'Brien sets the reader up to know that this book will never have a clear-cut ending very early on in the novel. Th\e reader has a choice then, he offers to set it down if that's not good enough for the reader.
The biggest strength in my opinion is the sheer artistry in which O'Brien paints the dramatic line of the novel. The unconventional prose form really added to the unconventionality of the story. The ambiguity of the narrator and his connection to John Wade just made you think even more. The chapters with only the evidence listed gave such a tremendous strength to the exposition provided. The mystery of the Northern Minnesota setting on the water made a perfect escape route for concrete answers to the mystery. And the love that was spoken between husband and wife was enough for a reader to want to find what that feels like. This is not the first work I've read by O'Brien; in fact it's one of the many. This so far was my favorite and with my high recommendation.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Virtuosic, February 28, 2005
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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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent O'Brien work, September 22, 2003
By 
P. Nicholas Keppler "rorscach12" (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Throughout most of his first twenty years of writing, Tim O'Brien used fiction to come to grips with his experiences in the Vietnam War. In his 1994 novel, In the Lake of the Woods, O'Brien does not exactly shift his focus (readers would have to wait until 1998's Tomcat in Love for that) but he does widen his scope. Yes, the story's protagonist, failed politician John Wade, is a Vietnam veteran. However, the novel, describing the mysterious disappearance of Wade's wife after his landslide loss in a Senatorial race, is about more than the war and its ghosts (although both are certainly addressed). In the Lake of the Woods is also about the addictive nature of merit; America's destructive relationship with its most ambitious sons and all that can go wrong in the process of healing. It is a bold and brainy book unafraid to dig deep into the American psyche. It is also one that shows O'Brien's knack for readjusting the conventions of fiction. Chapters entitled "Hypothesis," narrate possible explanations of Kathy Wade's disappearance while ones labeled "Evidence" consist of quotes elaborating on John's mindset, some from friends and family and others from existent sources as diverse as court testimony from those involved in the Mai Lai massacre and guidebooks to Wade's childhood hobby, magic tricks. In the Lake of the Woods shows O'Brien continuing to flex his muscles and show why he is one of today's writers most worth reading.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Different Sort of O'Brien Book, March 21, 2002
By A Customer
"In the Lake of the Woods" is a different sort of Tim O'Brien book, but I think it is almost as good as his previous works.
"In the Lake of the Woods" is an atmospheric mystery that is not set in Vietnam, but one in which Vietnam still plays a significant role.
After a devastating political loss, John Wade and his wife, Kathy, retreat to their cabin in the Minnesota woods to relax and regroup. Once at the cabin, however, things go terribly wrong. John, a Vietnam veteran, has been harboring a terrible secret, a secret that destroyed his political career and is now, perhaps, threatening his very life...and Kathy's.
When Kathy disappears, it is John who becomes the prime suspect, and not without good cause. But is he a murderer? Or is he, instead, a worried husband, tormented by the horrors of his past? This is the central question around which this book revolves and this is the mystery that must be solved in the Minnesota woods.
"In the Lake of the Woods" is a complex, psychological novel that deals with the lingering repercussions of war on the day-to-day life of the participants. Whether John Wade did nor did not have a hand in the disappearance of his wife is of less importance to this story than is his deteriorating mental state.
Tim O'Brien is a first-rate writer. His work may not be your cup of tea, but his prose is always near perfect. I did not think the characterization in this book was as stong as in O'Brien's previous work and because of that, I couldn't care about the characters as much. There was something artificial about them, especially Kathy, that prevented me from becoming deeply involved with them. The weaker (but still good) characterization is the reason I gave this book four stars instead of five.
A warning: those readers who require a neat and tidy ending won't find it here. A neat and tidy ending really isn't important in this book. What is important is that we feel a sense of satisfaction at the book's end. I certainly felt that with "In the Lake of the Woods."
To those readers who believe that reading anything with a "Vietnam theme" is passe, don't worry. Vietnam really doesn't take center stage here. This is not a war novel.
This book isn't a light, entertaining read, it's a dark and disturbing one instead. Multilayered, complex and complicated, "In the Lake of the Woods" is a book that will haunt you long after you've finished the last page.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Step Away from the Conventions, April 16, 2001
Anyone familiar with Tim O'Brien's work knows that he continually wants to push his readers to think deeply and past the mundane conventions of story telling. In the Lake of the Woods does not differ in this aspect. The narrator of the story admits to the readers at the very beginning that, if you like stories tied in beautiful little bows at the end, a tight little plot snipped off into a happy and satisfying end, this book is not for you! I completely agree with the narrator, after finishing the novel; you will not be satisfied if you're reading this novel purely for a cut and paste plot with a resolution at the end. However, I think this novel is wonderfully written and offers a great challenge to anyone wanting to push the limits of their mind and think differently. John Wade, an ambitious politician has just lost his a primary for the US Senate and has turned to a hideaway cottage in the Lake of the Woods with his wife Kathy. Dealing with the depression of his letdown, John and Kathy struggle to keep their marriage intact. However, all seems futile when one morning, John wakes up to discover that Kathy is gone. The novel continues to explain John's past-his childhood playing with magic tricks, his experience in the Vietnam War and his love affair with Kathy. Meanwhile, O'Brien (or the narrator, whichever you chose to identify him as) provides wonderfully, descriptive hypotheses of what could have happened to Kathy. The narrator spoils it for you write away, so I might as well tell you, you're not going to find out. And, yes, you're going to struggle with that-we are taught that at the end of the story, everything is resolved, whether happily or unhappily and then we can go one with our lives, but O'Brien, I think, expects more from his readers. O'Brien's works are continually thrusting me into new realms. This story not only provided me with hours of captivated reading, but I also felt that I learned more about the novelty of stories and how it's okay for them to step outside of conventions. His writing is amazing, and this novel is no exception. Perhaps one of the most earth-shattering aspects of not having this story tied up nice and neat at the end is the fact that these characters come to life! they live and breathe through O'Brien's writing and you want to know so much more about them. That talent is amazing-I want to keep reading after I'm done, and it isn't only because the story doesn't resolve itself. O'Brien has created a world for me that I'm not ready to leave. This book is wonderful. Read it a hundred times. But a caution for those who like stories with a resolution. You're not going to find it here. But I recommend that you challenge yourself. O'Brien's writing is definitely worth it and I think that anyone can learn a lot from this book.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding, March 17, 2004
After reading the initial short story that became O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," I found myself interested to read his other material. "In the Lake of the Woods" lives up to the same beautifully, haunting prose that makes up O'Brien's style. The "problem" (and I place this in quotes since I don't really see it as a problem) with O'Brien's work, is that one isn't sure whether he is writing fact or fiction. His memories of Vietnam that make up "The Things They Carried" make one question whether they are fact of fiction. (And I mention this here since the ghosts of Vietnam have their hold over the main character of this novel as well.) The same holds true for "In the Lake of the Woods." O'Brien uses character interviews and references, footnooted in the Evidence chapters to build his narrative to its climax.
"In the Lake of the Woods" tells the story of a disintegrating marriage, that neither partner is ready to admit to. John and Kathy Wade have escaped to a cabin in the woods for two weeks until the world around them has calmed down. John is a politician who was slaughtered in the last election when the dark secrets of his past are revealed. And as a politician, he cannot have any "skeletons" in the closet (how apt that I read this in an election year). The two hardly communicate, their bond is fragile and their future uncertain. To complicate matters, John wakes up one morning to find Kathy missing. The locals suspect foul play; John claims he is innocent, but he is not above reproach. The novel then sets about trying to uncover the mystery not only of Kathy's disappearance, but of John's secret past.
O'Brien has again proven himself a master story-teller. One is immediately enthralled by the main characters and their mysteries. While reading, one is torn between like and dislike for John Wade, known to his war buddies as the magician, and one wonders just what tricks he has up his sleeves. The tricks that O'Brien has are his vivid characters and beautiful prose. His chapters fluctuate between differing points of view to offering evidence to what happened, as well as to what might have happened. O'Brien ends his novel by giving the reader the ending, allowing them to choose the scenario they like best. This is the only way a novel of such depth and intrigue could have ended; leaving a mystery unsolved, as though the "facts" of the story were real. Perhaps they are.
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In the Lake of the Woods
In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien (Paperback - September 1, 2006)
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