In the Lake of the Woods

Tim O'Brien

In the Lake of the Woods

Tim O'Brien

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In the Lake of the Woods Important Quotes


“But it was more than a lost election. It was something physical. Humiliation, that was part of it, and the wreckage in his chest and stomach, and then the rage, how it surged up into his throat and how he wanted to scream the most terrible things he could scream—Kill Jesus!—and how he couldn’t help himself and couldn’t think straight and couldn’t stop screaming terrible things inside his head, because nothing could be done, and because it was so brutal and sad and final. He felt crazy sometimes, real depravity” 

(Chapter 1, Page 5)

John Wade describes the nearly uncontrollable rage he feels at his humiliating political defeat. This rage is John’s typical reaction to rejection, and points to the mental instability, so closely controlled most of the time, that becomes obvious in times of stress. This is the first of many revelations about John’s mental illness. Such insights raise the question of whether a man who imagines such actions is capable of carrying them out in the real world.


“Late at night an electric sizzle came into his blood, a tight pumped-up killing rage, and he couldn’t keep it in and he couldn’t let it out. He wanted to hurt things. Grab a knife and start slashing and never stop. All those years. Climbing like a son of a bitch, clawing his way up inch by fucking inch, and then it all came crashing down at once” 

(Chapter 1, Page 5)

John’s furious response to every incident of perceived humiliation lies at the core of his personality. Clearly unstable, John attempts to hide this part of himself from everyone, particularly his wife, Kathy. This rage is one of the secrets he keeps. He simply cannot cope with the rejection and defeat he has experienced.


“On one occasion, as she was washing breakfast dishes, Kathy made a low sound in her throat and began to say something, just a word or two, then her eyes focused elsewhere, beyond him, beyond the walls of the cottage, and then after a time she looked down at the dishwater and did not look back again. It was an image that would not go away. Twenty-four hours later, when she was gone, John Wade would remember the enormous distance that had come into her face at that instant, a kind of travel, and he would find himself wondering where she had taken herself, and why, and by what means” 

(Chapter 4 , Pages 16-17)

John Wade is reconstructing his last day with his wife, after Kathy has disappeared. This moment exemplifies the ways in which the author plants clues about what might have happened. Not a single thing in their relationship is what it appears to be. Kathy might have been planning to leave John; she might have been thinking about talking to him about what she was really feeling.

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