Randomly, my oldest daughter asked me, "who are the funniest people you know?" (As her brain nears full development, she seems to want to learn more about the minutiae of my life.) After a thoughtful minute, I named a few hilarious people. Ann Dee Knight Ellis would definitely make my top 20. She's funny, and smart, and thoughtful, and REAL. (Yes, I used caps to emphasize that.) The more I live, the more I crave being around authentic people. Ann Dee is one of those people. You should get to know her (if not in person, through her writing at least). She's published 3 young adult books, and she'll teach you how to write. If you don't believe me, go here.
You can also read this poignant post she wrote for Throwback Thursday. Can't thank you enough Ann Dee. I'll be over with some cookie dough and popped corn real soon! —Tracy
There are so many things to say about The Things They Carried. This book taught me and pushed me and scared me and also, more than anything made me feel alive after a long time living like a mummy. It seems strange to say that because the majority of the novel is about death. But there it is, this book is soul jolting. I'll give you one example out of many to illustrate what I mean.
One day, in my 2007 Silver Honda Oydssey with my oldest son Van's name etched in the side, I stopped at a stoplight. Next to me was an older gentleman in fancy maroon Chrysler. My windows were down and his were down and I'll admit it, things weren't going well inside my vehicle. The kids were fighting with each other. The Chipmunks were playing full blast so that I didn't have to listen to the fighting and the baby was screaming. It was just another Friday. Unfortunately, the gentleman in the Chrysler seemed unnerved by this scene. He kept glancing over in disapproval and then gripping his steering wheel and then glancing over again. Mom in a mini-van. Mom with screaming kids. Mom with bad hair and furry eyebrows.
Suddenly, anger boiled up. "You don't know me," I wanted to yell. "You don't know me old man."
This is strange behavior, wanting to scream at strangers, I found out from my husband, Cam.
"I think yes, it is," He told me.
Some days I do very important things. I take care of my kids. I might vacuum. I write a chapter for a book. I pull some weeds. I talk to people. Maybe I even shower. In general, I'm happy. But then sometimes, on some days, I feel like someone took a giant iron and flattened me out. Just went back and forth and back and forth with hot steam spewing out, over and over and over again so that I would look flat and wrinkle free.
While I was reading this book, a particular story stood out. It's a story told second and thus third-hand about a soldier living on a base who had the idea to fly his girlfriend to Vietnam for a visit. No one had ever thought of such a thing. Could you do that? And it turns out you could and he did.
She is seventeen and she is pretty and fun and nice. Her boyfriend is in heaven. All the other boys are jealous. She giggles and plays volleyball and says cute things.
But then, things change.
The longer she's there, she changes.
She starts to see things.
And suddenly, she's no longer pretty and fun and nice. She's quiet. Thoughtful. She cuts her hair. She stops wearing skirts. She disappears for hours on end. This scares people, most especially the one who supposedly knew her best. Who is she? What's happening to her? What can he do to get her back?
Here is a description of our girl, MaryAnne:
"For Mary Anne Bell, it seemed, Vietnam had the effect of a powerful drug: that mix of unnamed terror and unnamed pleasure that comes as the needle slips in and you know you're risking something. The endorphins start to flow, and the adrenaline, and you hold your breath and creep quietly through the moonlit nightscapes; you become intimate with danger.; you're in touch with the far side of yourself, as though it's another hemisphere, and you want to string it out and go wherever the trips takes you and be host to all the possibilities inside you . . . .Vietnam made her glow in the dark. She wanted more, she wanted to penetrate deeper into the mystery of herself, and after a time the wanting became a needing, which turned then into a craving." p. 109
After I read this chapter, I had to sit for a long time. For days, it felt like. I told Cam about it. I tried to describe it, this transformation. I couldn't do it justice. I started to think about my own choices, the risks I had taken and the ones I had not taken. The ones I could still take. I thought about how much stock I put into what people thought, rather than figuring out what I wanted, for me. It really was this strange sort of experience, a self examination that I was not expecting and which resulted in some decisions--small ones, but decisions nonetheless--that I made in order to maybe re-direct parts of my life.
There's so much more to say. This book is horrific and beautiful and crass and gentle and was just what I needed. Cam read it too--he's not a reader but he read it and when he was done, he asked me what he should read next. It's the kind of book you can't put down, the kind that pushes you and makes you take a look at hard things but at the same time, teaches you that we're all more alike than we realize.
I loved this book. I like a lot of books. I loved this one.