By Mark A. Heberle
A Trauma Artist examines how O'Brien's works variously rewrite his personal traumatization through the conflict in Vietnam as a unending fiction that sarcastically recovers own event via either recapturing and (re)disguising it. Mark Heberle considers O'Brien's occupation as a author during the prisms of post-traumatic rigidity sickness, postmodernist metafiction, and post-World warfare II American political uncertainties and public violence.
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Extra resources for A Trauma Artist: Tim O'Brien and the Fiction of Vietnam
Nonetheless, previous critics have largely left O’Brien’s focus on trauma unexplored. There are only a few brief references to the writer in Worlds of Hurt, Kali Tal’s authoritative study of Vietnam- and other trauma-generated literature, for example. Indeed, although O’Brien has been celebrated as a Vietnam War author, it is a label that he strongly resists and that his trauma-saturated ﬁction calls into question. There have been more studies of O’Brien’s individual works than any other American writer on the war, but relatively little attention has been paid to the non-Vietnam novels Northern Lights and The Nuclear Age, and the development of O’Brien as a traumatist from Combat Zone to his latest novel has not been considered.
Domestic security is threatened by survivor trauma in that work as well as in 8 FA B R I C AT I N G TR AU MA the three even-numbered novels, and in all of O’Brien’s works after Cacciato, broken marriages or love relationships are as traumatizing as anything suffered by his characters in Viet Nam. Thus, the destructive merging of Vietnam with intimate relationships in “The Vietnam in Me” is found throughout O’Brien’s works as they explore the private sources and reverberations of public catastrophes.
The juxtaposition of these two different locations and times deliberately links yet separates past and present, Viet Nam and America, the writer as victimizer and the writer as victim, other American and Vietnamese casualties of the war and O’Brien himself, the trauma of war and the trauma of love, being with his companion and being separated from her. The turning point from Vietnam to domestic trauma is the couple’s visit to the site of the My Lai Massacre. Not only is this the longest single series of scenes (three) in a single place (“My Lai, Quang Ngai Province, February 1994,” 52–53), but the ﬁrst My Lai scene is the seventh of the fourteen sited and dated sections, while the ﬁnal one is the ninth of the eighteen sections as a whole.