Interpretive Essay: Lake of the Woods By Tim O’Brien
Tim O’Brien’s modernistic piece of writing is both a realistic account of historic events which were present in US history: the My Lai Massacre in 1968. At the same time, it is a fictional mystery written with the help of numerous reminiscences as well as flow of consciousness. The protagonist of the story is John Wade, lieutenant governor of Minnesota, gets back into his childhood, time in Vietnam during the war, and college years through his memories. Even though the major problem of the story is focused on the search of Wade’s wife who mysteriously disappeared during their stay in the Lake of the Woods, the main events which become known play much more important role.
Reminiscence as well as flow of consciousness is one of the major styles or characteristics of modernistic writing. Furthermore, O’Brien tells the story with the help of the narrator, who as we understand is neither the writer himself nor the main character. It is someone who knows John Wade very well and who was a soldier at Vietnam War. Thus, the narrator is a person who does not reveal its identity. Moreover, O’Brien uses special notes to add some information or explain something in the footnotes. The narrator is as if trying to give some advice or hints on how better to understand something in this mysterious story.
In Note 21, Chapter 6, it is narrated:
Yes, and I’m a theory man too. Biographer, historian, medium-call me what you want–but even after four years of hard labor I’m left with little more than supposition and possibility. John Wade was a magician; he did not give away many tricks. Moreover, there are certain mysteries that weave through life itself, human motive and human desire. Even much of what might appear to be a fact in this narrative action, word thought–must ultimately be viewed as a diligent but still imaginative reconstruction of events. I have tried, of course, to be faithful to the evidence. Yet evidence is not truth. It is only evident. In any case, Kathy Wade is forever missing, and if you require solutions, you will have to look beyond these pages. Or read a different book.
O’Brien’s way of telling the story is really unusual to the reader, because it seems that it is not told by the writer himself, but someone else. This Note 21 clearly points out the fact that humans are mysterious creatures in their nature. One and the same fact or historical event can be interpreted and told very differently. Depending in what light one wants others to see it, he/she retells the story in a specific way. “Imaginative reconstruction of events” implies that those events might be truthful or might be simply imaginative. Furthermore, we understand that the narrator is not very reliable as he states “I have tried, of course, to be faithful to the evidence”. The narrator only tried to be faithful. And what is more, evidence does not really mean the truth or true facts. Evidence is only the reality one sees and thinks it is as it is which can be quite different if to look at it from a different angle. Therefore, the reader has to understand that some of the facts might be true while the others might be not. To be quite sure in anything told in this novel, one has to “read a different book”, because the narrator finally stresses “It is only evident”.
O’Brien created a mysterious piece of writing full of intertwined real facts as well as imaginative events and characters. Not only O’Brien, any other writer or historian would be unable to present a one hundred percent historical truth, because there always are some facts or actors whom we might not know about, but who had a great impact on the course of events in the history. Ordinary people only see the actors on the stage. The same in life: we see only the events and personalities acting out overtly, while many people who are working behind the stage or curtains are left unknown or unnoticed. Some of them are even disguised.
To a reader who wants to know more about the reality of Vietam War, for instance, the narrator (actually, O’Brien himself) advices to “look beyond these pages”. I would go as far as to claim that the events O’Brien presents though his characters are only a tiny part of the huge iceberg of historic truth.
The narrator does not want to be a judge or some super historian. The story is presented from different aspects and with the help of words of other characters who know or used to know John Wade. The truth or rather mystery of historic events of far 1968 is laid out at reader’s exposure. It is up to every reasonable human being to interpret the complex flow of events skillfully organized into a mysterious novel by O’Brien. I would even say that the role of the narrator is to wake up reader’s attention and make him/her analyze the facts and search for solution himself/herself. Narrator is like a filter that is not really filtrating anything, but pointing out that some of the facts might be truthful, while the rest are subjective and “Imaginative reconstruction of events”.