Tim O'Brien is arguably the most highly regarded of all Vietnam War veterans who have become creative writers. In a significant footnote near the end of In the Lake of the Woods, he describes his memories of this war as âa handful of splotchy images'
John Wade is a man whom nobody ever gains a full knowledge of; indeed, he does not even know himself. The trials of his childhood, especially his father's alcoholism and suicide, lead him to try to remake reality through his enthusiasm for magic. He desperately seeks his father's love and approval, and his father's inability to give him these leaves him deeply insecure and uncertain of his identity. The hurt little boy who is abandoned by his father grows into the man who deeply fears abandonment by those he loves. Wade never really recovers from his father's death. We may not admire Wade, but the fact that his life is so seriously damaged at such an early stage certainly makes him worthy of our sympathy.
THEMES, IDEAS & VALUES
The continuing effects of trauma
John Wade suffers three major traumas in his life. The first is the suicide of his father; this event weakens his capacity to deal not only with his experiences in Vietnam but also with other important life events, especially his marriage.
Illusion and reality
Central to this novel, then, is the issue of the denial of reality. In Vietnam, John Wade always goes by the name of âSorcerer', the dark magician, the man of smoke and mirrors. The main purpose of a magician is to promote illusion, and this is exactly what Wade tries to do. Like a latter-day Houdini, he is a master of disappearance. He tries to make his past disappear, and there is an awful appropriateness about the fact that in the end his wife disappears. He is a man who feels the need to remake both the world and himself, but he cannot do this because he refuses to acknowledge the central realities of his life.
The mystery of humans/the inaccessibility of truth