"In the Lake of the Woods" tells of John and Kathy Wade, who are together at that lake in Minnesota, on the Canadian border.
They are taking time together to try to figure out what John would do after John's landslide loss in a political campaign. He had been a rising star, politically, being Lieutenant Governor at age thirty seven. From this lofty success, he doesn't know how he'll deal with the end of his dreams.
The author describes John and Kathy's early life at the University of Minnesota and then married after his return from Vietnam.
They had been offered the cabin by a friend, after John's staggering political loss. Once they arrived at the cabin and settled in, things seemed normal. However, John awakens one morning after a possible blackout and Kathy has disappeared. John cannot remember what happened that might have caused this.
What is interesting is that the author offers different hypothesis. Did Kathy run off? Did John kill her and hide the body? Did she have an accident on the lake?
With Tim O'Brien's journalistic manner of writing, he describes John's actions while stationed in Vietnam as a member of Charlie Company. The story is filled with quoted statements from other participants in the massacre. Then we wonder what is the psychological effect of these actions on John.
John's character is well described by the author, as is the setting and the historical happenings in Vietnam. Perhaps John is an extreme example of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome which not only caused the downfall of a politician on the rise but led to whatever happened between he and his wife.
This dark novel is an imaginative and stimulating portrayal of the aftermath of war and the dissolution of a man's spirit and possibly, his life.