“The Things They Carried”: Iconic Vietnam stories, now in Bryan Cranston’s voice
Bryan Cranston, star of “Breaking Bad,” narrates the newly released audiobook edition of “The Things They Carried,” Tim O’Brien’s first Vietnam War masterpiece. Cranston’s confident, measured performance is among the best audiobook performances I’ve ever heard, rivaling Brad Pitt’s flat and fast abridgment of Cormac McCarthy’s “All the Pretty Horses,” but the greater pleasure is in O’Brien’s book, first published in 1990. The intervening twenty-three years have done nothing to diminish its power.
By the time O’Brien published “The Things They Carried,” he had already written two very good books about the Vietnam War. First, “If I Die in a Combat Zone (Box Me Up and Ship Me Home),” a lyrical but straightforward memoir, portions of which were written in foxholes between battles, and then “Going After Cacciato,” a novel that tilted in the direction of Latin American magical realism, and which won the National Book Award in 1979.
Both of those earlier books are haunted by the same questions many in the United States had been asking for the better part of two decades: Why were we in Vietnam? Was what we did there just? How much of it was criminal? What responsibilities should conscripted soldiers bear for the things their country asked them to do? What collective responsibility ought to be borne by the country that did the asking?