The English Department celebrates the publication of yet another faculty title to be released this semester: Susan Farrell’s Critical Companion to Tim O’Brien, a comprehensive guide to the life and work of an author whose place in the canon of American literature is increasingly ensured by his works’ consistent appearance in college and high-school syllabi and by the growing body of critical reflection surrounding his work.

Farrell’s book contains: a concise biography; overviews of all O’Brien’s published work; entries on cultural, historical, geographical, and political background among other topical matters relating to O’Brien’s work; a complete chronology; and comprehensive biographies of O’Brien’s published work and critical studies addressing that work.

In her introduction to the volume, Farrell describes the scope of O’Brien’s accomplishment as a writer and explains why his work has been so influential–and why it will continue to resonate with readers in the decades to come:

“Best known for his wrenching accounts of American soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War, particularly the National Book Award-winning novel Going After Cacciato (1978), the collection of inter-related short stories, The Things They Carried (1990), and the mystery-thriller In the Lake of the Woods (1994), Tim O’Brien is considered by many critics to be one of the finest American writers of his generation.  His work is frequently taught in high school and college English classes, making him an extremely popular writer among young people, but his books resonate as well with a diverse group of readers ranging from Vietnam combat veterans to people who do not ordinarily like war literature.  The author of a war memoir, seven novels, over thirty-five short stories, and numerous essays and reviews, O’Brien is admired for his emotionally honest and heartbreaking examinations of human beings who face moral and philosophical crises in their lives.  O’Brien’s characters typically share his own Midwestern background.  They range from decent men who try their best to behave honorably in untenable situations to morally complicated, damaged people who are willing to do anything for love.  He frequently uses metafictional techniques in his work, sometimes commenting on the stories he is telling as he tells them, as well as blending elements of fact and fiction. Despite these experimental techniques, O’Brien’s work always remains accessible to the ordinary reader.  Above all, he is interested in the process of narrative itself—how telling stories can be a way at arriving at truth, often a more meaningful and emotionally charged truth than can be achieved through factual history.”