This was a very hard book for me to get through. Unfortunately, I haven’t read O’Brien’s more famous book, a memoir of his time in Vietnam (The Things They Carried). Which, I am positive, is more my speed. You see, I am all for the anti-war fiction (looking at my favorite book Catch-22) but Cacciato just wasn’t doing it for me.
Basic plot: Private Cacciato has decided that he is tired of fighting in Vietnam and wants to walk to Paris. Why? Honestly, he doesn’t need a good reason. One is clearly better than the other circa 1960s. A squad from his platoon sets out to drag his AWOL ass back. But when he keeps eluding them and they cross their first border, they must decide just how far they will follow Cacciato across the world.
This novel is one of those books where when everyone talks, they are talking about one thing but definitely referring to something else. Like two characters go on about the weather, but really they’re talking about their lieutenant they’re about to kill. Similarly, every character seems to represent something larger. Either the war itself, or America, Vietnam, Russia, other countries, it could be anything. I’m certainly not smart enough to figure it out. I think my enjoyment of the book would have been greater if I knew exactly who represented what, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure it out.
This is not to say this is a bad book. (It might be) But it’s not the book for me. Hidden meanings abound and they aren’t so obvious for the clueless like me. I didn’t know who the main character was until halfway through the novel. I had assumed there wasn’t one and then all of a sudden he’s narrating the damn thing.
There were many parts I enjoyed. But none of them were the main focus of the book. The stuff that felt like a real memoir, and not a fever dream, was great. I think the balance between the two was too far into fever dream and not enough horrifying reality to ground it.
Will this stop me from reading O’Brien’s other work? Hell no, he writes with a simple, subtle grace. No frills, but it’s beautiful regardless. Cacciato could have used a little shortening though. And don’t take my negative review as bad, you might very well enjoy it. But don’t feel bad if you don’t.
1.5 out of 4 stars.