In 2003, Tim O'Brien began “a few short messages in a bottle that my kids might find tucked away in a dusty file cabinet long after my death.” Then his son Tad proposed he write a “maybe” book: which all writers do at the outset. “We are all writing our maybe books full of maybe tomorrows, and each maybe tomorrow brings another maybe tomorrow and then another until the last line of the last page receives its period.” If this sounds hokey, think again. Dad’s Maybe Book (Houghton Mifflin, $28) explores ambiguity. Tender, funny, and poignant, it reveals O’Brien as father, magician, Vietnam vet, and reader (especially of Hemingway) as well as O’Brien the writer. Though he believes his obituary will call him a “war writer” really he is anti-war, anti-absolutism. “This entire maybe book, like our lives, is full of maybes…and it’s okay to say ‘maybe’ even when you believe you have access to some self-evident ironclad miraculous and eternal Truth.” The most poignant chapter—“An Immodest and Altogether Earnest Proposal”—suggests we eliminate the word war from our vocabulary, substituting killing people, including children. This reframes not only our best war literature but also our values themselves.
Dad's Maybe Book by Tim O'Brien