In the Lake of the Woods Summary and Study Guide

Tim O'Brien

In the Lake of the Woods

  • 35-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 31 chapter summaries and 6 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by an experienced high school teacher with a PhD in English Literature
Access Full Summary

In the Lake of the Woods Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 35-pages guide for “In the Lake of the Woods” by Tim O’Brien includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 31 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Uncertainty and Mystery of the Human Heart.

Plot Summary

A thriller with an unsolved mystery at its core, In the Lake of the Woodsby Tim O’Brien, explores love and the nature of the heart, then carefully explicates the psychological damage of war and the toll it takes on individuals, families, and society as a whole, through the story of one man—John Wade. The plot’s central mystery—the disappearance of Kathy Wade—is one of several unveiled in this novel. O’Brien constructs a novel in which the heart of John Wade, and indeed, the heart of every human being, remains an inexplicable enigma.

After John is defeated in the United States Senate primary in Minnesota, John and Kathy Wade escape to a yellow cabin on the isolated shores of Lake of the Woods in northernmost Minnesota.  There they try to put together the broken pieces of their marriage and their future. Shortly after they arrive at the cabin, Kathy disappears. The third-person narrator reconstructs events from both John and Kathy’s perspectives, attempting to solve the mystery of what happened to Kathy.

Psychologically damaged during his childhood, John Wade’s two tours fighting in Vietnam exacerbated his psychological and emotional problems, resulting in an overpowering need to control events and people in order to gain love and acceptance. His need to create a positive self-image is so great that he generates an alter-ego named Sorcerer to handle the feelings he cannot process, including rage and personal rejection.

Upon returning from Vietnam, John Wade marries his college sweetheart Kathy, goes to law school, and embarks upon an ambitious life of public service in his state’s government, rising to the lieutenant governorship, and finally running for the United States Senate. When his possible involvement in Vietnam War crimes become public, John’s political career and his dreams are destroyed.

When they arrive at the cabin, John is full of rage and humiliation at his very public rejection. Did John Wade’s deeply neurotic need for love and acceptance drive him to kill his wife, his only friend and true love? The author never answers this question.Instead, the narrator constructs a series of alternative theories in what he titles Hypothesis chapters, using flashbacks to depict John’s childhood, and lays out facts and opinions in so-called Evidence chapters. In the end, readers must decide for themselves.However, at the end of the novel, both John and Kathy Wade are missing, long missing, and presumed dead.

This is just a preview. The entire section has 398 words. Click below to download the full study guide for In the Lake of the Woods.

Chapters 1-6