In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien, USA, 1994

I really enjoyed this book where fact and fiction sidle past each other until it is difficult to know what is fact and what is fiction. The story begins with John Wade, an up-and-coming politician, failing to be elected to the American senate. He and his wife, Kathy, then retreat to their cabin by the lake in the woods to avoid the relentless media and to try to work out what actually happened. Damaging rumours about John's time in Vietnam have been circulating, and it is certainly these rumours that have lost him the senate position.

As the story unfolds, we learn of John's childhood with an abusive father, with whom John desperately wanted contact, and of John's attraction to the world of magic. Through flashbacks, we see how John meets Kathy at college, is drafted into the Vietnam War and, on his return to America, pursues a career in politics. His ambition to succeed is so great that everything else - even having a family - must take second place. John is plagued by nightmares, and as the flashbacks begin to merge, it becomes apparent as to what may be causing the nightmares. While John and Kathy are at the cabin, something happens which is pivotal to the entire story.

  Photo of Tim O'Brien from

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, In the Lake of the Woods is an intrinsic mixture of both fact and fiction. The connection to Vietnam and the My Lai massacre is part of the factual material, but at times, these accounts take on a fictional feeling while John and Kathy Wade's experiences by the lake, although fictional, begin to seem completely real. O'Brien's use of quotes from different investigations (My Lai), characters in the story and even other authors gives a strangely authoritative feel to the novel as a whole. The reader is presented with the information, both factual and fictional, and then it is up to him/her to make a decision.

Like all magic, there is the reality and the illusion, and it is the reader's job to sort the one from the other. Beautifully written and completely suspenseful from the first to the very last page, I would definitely recommend this book. 

In the Lake of the Woods was made into a film in 1996. You can watch the trailer here.