BOOKS: Missing in Contemplation

Tim O'Brien, perhaps the best writer of fiction about Vietnam, deals with it again in a novel that is brave and often brilliant

Some writers are born with a theme, some acquire a theme, and some have a theme thrust upon them. But however writers come by it, their great subject provides a surge of intensity to their work that no other material can. The novels of Mona Simpson, for example, go electric as soon as she touches on the figure of a mother; Amy Tan's fiction reaches its heights the minute she turns to China. For Tim O'Brien, who deferred his admission as a graduate student at Harvard in order to serve in Vietnam, the elemental theme is his experience there as a...

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