By Mark A. Heberle
A Trauma Artist examines how O'Brien's works variously rewrite his personal traumatization in the course of the struggle in Vietnam as a unending fiction that ironically recovers own event via either recapturing and (re)disguising it. Mark Heberle considers O'Brien's occupation as a author throughout the prisms of post-traumatic tension affliction, postmodernist metafiction, and post-World struggle II American political uncertainties and public violence.
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Extra resources for A Trauma Artist: Tim O'Brien and the Fiction of Vietnam
FA B R I C AT I N G TR AU MA 7 Ironically, the character who seems to be least affected by Vietnam is O’Brien himself in his initial combat memoir. “The Vietnam in Me” thus appears to conﬁrm Kali Tal’s observation that “survival literature tends to appear at least a decade after the traumatic experience in question” (1996: 125). The progressively greater emphasis on such experiences in O’Brien’s works suggests a personal working out of trauma through refabrication. Indeed, each of O’Brien’s protagonists is a version of the author, and in two of the later works, the author’s ﬁctional personae are nearly indistinguishable from himself: The narrator and chief protagonist of The Things They Carried is even named “Tim O’Brien,” and the unnamed narrator of In the Lake of the Woods is a former combat soldier in Viet Nam who has just revisited Thuan Yen as part of his research for writing the book that we are reading.
Different hemispheres, different scales of atrocity. I don’t want it to happen. I want to tell her things and be understood and live happily ever after. I want a miracle. That’s the ﬁnal emotion. The terror at this ditch, the certain doom, the need for God’s intervention. ) from an unspeakable war crime into an unspoken anxiety between two lovers that will lead to their separation four months later. The narrator ﬁnds it difﬁcult to “take leave” not only of Thuan Yen but of the woman he loves. The grave site of the My Lai Massacre and of America’s own righteous pretensions becomes a tomb for their relationship as well, poisoning love with its terrible inﬂuence.
This is a mature, nuanced account of Socialist Viet Nam that reconﬁrms the war as an American crime without FA B R I C AT I N G TR AU MA 23 idealizing or demonizing either nation. “I love my country,” Ehrhart afﬁrms at the end of the book (181), where he also registers the differences between Vietnam and Viet Nam and his own movement from traumatized survivor to politically engaged writer: “The Vietnamese have burdens of their own to bear; they have no need and no use for my anguish or my guilt.