Julia’s #CBRV Review #18: Tomcat in Love by Tim O’Brien

200px-TomcatinLoveTomcat in Love is a great book because Tim O’Brien is a great author. He can pull off just about anything, and here he’s pulling off a romantic comedy. I say, “pulling off,” because creating a legitimately funny romance is hard to do, we haven’t made much progress since Shakespeare. The pursuer is Thomas H. Chippering, an Abe Lincoln look-a-like who has convinced himself that he is God’s gift to women. His ex-wife, Lorna Sue, is the pursued. To Thomas, she is female perfection, and he has to win her back while enacting revenge on the man who stole her away, “the tycoon.” He is assisted by Mrs. Robert Kooshof (her husband is in prison), who finds him crying in her backyard one afternoon, and decides to take him in.

What makes this novel great is O’Brien’s style. He creates a novel that theoretically could happen, there are no fantastical creatures or alien overlords, but it’s a story that would never happen. O’Brien’s novels are hyperrealistic, everything seems real until you look a little closer and you realize the details are exaggerated and what’s there is just representative of something real. O’Brien could write the same story about love and passion as an ordinary drama, but what makes Tomcat in Love so enjoyable to read is that it’s so darn strange. When characters are punished, it’s an event. When revenge is carried out, it’s war. When a character falls in love they’re in it for good.

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Kayt’s #CBR5 Review #06: Going After Cacciato

ImageGoing After Cacciato is regarded by many as one of the greatest war novels ever written, and it certainly lived up to expectations. I’m no expert on war literature, but I would say it might be the finest literary work to emerge from the Vietnam war. Tim O’Brien has created a beautiful, enduring, and important book that deserves to be read by anyone interested in war, fiction, or just great literature.

The plot is as follows: One day a young soldier named Cacciato decides he’s had enough of this war, and sets out for Paris on foot. A group of fellow soldiers go after him. The story follows them on their absurd journey through Vietnam and beyond. The book takes on a hallucinatory feel, often jumping between timelines, and making you question the reality of the story. This blend of fantasy and reality heightens the story, making it that much more fun to read.

The book is at times horrifying, humorous, shocking, fantastical, and deeply sad, the whole time underscored by O’Brien’s strong, crisp prose. The narrative moves along briskly and engrossingly, following the characters and the crazy things they encounter on their wild chase such as the Water Buffalo they lose falling down an Alice in Wonderland like hole, or the beheading they witness in Tehran . O’Brien beautifully explores  the different men, their lives, fears, and motivations, and on the deeper level, the motivation for war itself, and the purpose these men are actually serving.

It is evident that O’Brien, a foot soldier in Vietnam, knows his material very well. Drawing from personal knowledge and a rich imagination, O’Brien constructs a vivid, haunting and beautiful portrait of war, and soldiers. Combining the gritty realism and horrors of war, with the surrealism of this story, O’Brien has crafted not just one of the greatest war novels, one the greatest novels period.