Books

IN THE LAKE OF THE WOODS by Tim O’Brien | Reflection

In my Postmodern American Fiction class this past semester, we were assigned to write a page reflection each week on the book that we read. I actually really enjoyed writing these reflections because they were a chance to choose a specific aspect of the book and discuss it in depth without needed to come to any precise conclusions or arguments. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ve decided to continue on the process this summer! Along with reviews I’ll be sharing these reflections, brief discussions on novels that I’ve read without any value judgment or rating on my part. Let me know what you think! 

Footnotes are an integral component to this novel, one that has many different functions throughout the book. The most obvious function is to inform the reader of who and what O’Brien is quoting. These footnotes also serve as a bridge to who we assume to be the narrator, a way for him to voice his own opinions and views on the content he is sharing. While these functions are interesting in and of themselves, I would like to focus on three footnotes in particular: the ones on page 299 in my book, or the bottom of the first page of Chapter 31.

Footnote 1 refers the reader back to footnote 6 on page 194, specifically to “Crossan.” Yet when I looked back on page 94, I was confused to find that there was no footnote 6, only 10 or 11. Neither is there a mention of Crossan. In other words, this reference leads to nowhere. At first I thought it was a default in my edition–perhaps the editor got it wrong and the page number was a little bit off? However, upon further searching I realized that no footnote 6 in that part of the novel references Crossan. What is the significance of a footnote that leads to nothing, of a broken reference? Is it meant to send us on a wild goose chase, searching for something that we will never find? Are we meant to question ourselves or the accuracy of the novel? Is it reality that is deemed no longer credible, or the narrator interpretation of it? These questions of uncertainty imbue the novel with a very quantum feel, one that breeds mistrust in the novel and in the reader herself.

Footnote 2 comes after the words “in love” and directs the reader to “see Chapter 10.” One may expect a chapter titled “The Nature of Love” to be about John’s love for Kathy–and in part, it is, albeit the kind of obsessive love that manifests itself in spying and stalking–but this chapter is actually more about John’s desire to be loved by everyone he can possibly be loved by, especially his father.

It was in the nature of love that John Wade went to the war. Not to hurt or be hurt, not to be a good citizen or a hero or a moral man. Only for love. Only to be loved. He imagined his father, who was dead, saying to him, ‘Well, you did it, you hung in there, and I’m so proud, just so incredibly proud’ (O’Brien 59).

Once again, O’Brien plays with our expectations, twisting what we first think about when we imagine two adults in love. Here we see that love can have more than one definition at a time–more than two or three, even. Our desire to be loved and how we show our love for others can be two very, very disparate experiences, as evident by John’s spying tendencies.

Footnote 3 directs the reader to footnote 1 on page 94, which should say “It has been said that a miracle is the result of causes with which we are unacquainted” (O’Brien 299). And indeed it does; however, because of the inaccuracy of the first footnote we are immediately cautious when flipping back to this page. This mistrust in the novel that we experience causes us to doubt its inner workings and the very function of footnotes and text at their most basic level. Such uncertainty strikes me as quite a quantum sensation, causing us to simultaneously want to keep read and to put the book down in frustration.

Thoughts on In the Lake of the WoodsHave you ever read uses footnotes in this way? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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