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AN INTERVIEW WITH TIM O'BRIEN Tim O'Brien Tim O'Brien is the author of the critically acclalimed war memoir, J/ J Die in a Combat Zone, the novel, Going After Cacciato, which won the National Book Award in 1979, and two other novels, Northern Lights and The Nuclear Age. His most recent work of fiction, The Things They Carried, was chosen as one of the ten best books of 1990 by the New York Times Book Review. Steven Kaplan received his Phd. in Comparative Literature from the University of Tuebingen, Germany and is now an Associate Professor at the University of Southern Colorado. He is working on a full length study of Tim O'Brien's fiction. This interview was conducted in January of 1991 at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge. An Interview with Tim O'Brien/ Steven Kaplan Kaplan: You've said that you differ from Paul Berlin in Going After Cacciato in that he is more of a dreamer than you are. How do you differ from the narrator Tim O'Brien in The Things They Carried? O'Brien: Everything I've written has come partly out of my own concerns as a human being, and often directly out of those concerns, but the story lines themselves, the events of the stories, and the characters in the stories, the places in the stories, are almost all invented, even the Vietnam stuff. If I don't know it I just make it up, trying not to violate the world as I know it. Ninety percent or more of the material in the book is invented, and I invented 90 percent of a new Tim O'Brien, maybe even more than that. Kaplan: The chapter "On the Rainy River" describes in great detail how close Tim O'Brien came to fleeing to Canada after he received his draft notice. You've depicted this kind of flirtation with draft evasion in almost all of your books. How closely does this particular story reflect your own life? O'Brien: It's a dramatization of what I felt during the summer of 1968: a kind of moral schizophrenia. Like the Tim O'Brien in the book, I believed the war was wrong and thought that the morally correct thing to do was to flee, to run from it, or else go to jail. But another side of my personality, like the character in the book, felt a kind of gravity pulling me toward the war. The drama of the story, the facts about that character going to the river, meeting somebody, and almost crossing into Canada, were all invented. It was kind of a dramatic enactment of what had been an old, old daydream on my part. If I were to tell you the truth about the summer of 1968 it would be that I worried a lot. I also played golf and ate hamburgers, but The Missouri Review ยท 95 all of that would have been a dramatically empty story. It wouldn't have had the emotional quality of the Rainy River story, where I put a character right on the edge, how I felt psychologically, on the edge. Kaplan: Many critics said that The Things They Carried is a great book, but that it can in no real sense be considered a novel. O'Brien: Novels have a kind of continuity of plot or of narrative which this book does not have. But it would be unfair for me to say that it's a collection of stories; clearly all of the stories are related and the characters reappear and themes recur, and some of the stories refer back to others, and others refer forwards. I've thought of it as a work of fiction that is neither one nor the other. Kaplan: Several chapters of Going After Cacciato, like much of The Things They Carried, were initially published as short stories. Did you think of Cacciato as a novel while you were working on it? O'Brien: Almost from the moment of conception. It's a matter of feel. It's also a matter of how you're going to work with the materials. Kaplan: In all of your...


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