In the Lake of the Woods

In the Lake of the Woods

In the Lake of the Woods is narrated by an unnamed Vietnam veteran, whose reasons for researching John Wade’s life and compiling the research into a book are left largely unexplained. Most of the time, the narrator isn’t a conspicuous “presence” in the book: he narrates what happened, and that’s all. At other points, however, he suggests that he is distorting the facts, and reveals that he’s been to many of the same places in Vietnam that John visited as a soldier. The question of why the narrator is telling this story is at least as important as the question of what happens to Kathy. The fact that this question is arguably impossible to answer suggests that the mysteries in O’Brien’s novel can never be solved.

Narrator Quotes in In the Lake of the Woods

The In the Lake of the Woods quotes below are all either spoken by Narrator or refer to Narrator. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of In the Lake of the Woods published in 1995.
Chapter 20 Quotes

Double consummation: A way of fooling the audience by making it believe a trick is over before it really is.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), John Herman Wade
Related Symbols: Magic
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:

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The unknown, the unknowable. The blank faces. The overwhelming otherness. This is not to justify what occurred on March 16, 1968, for in my view such justifications are both futile and outrageous. Rather, it’s to bear witness to the mystery of evil. Twenty-five years ago, as a terrified young PFC, I too could taste the sunlight. I could smell the sin. I could feel butchery sizzling like grease just under my eyeballs.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Sunlight
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 22 Quotes

All you could do, he’d said, was open yourself up like a window and wait for fortune to blow in. And then they’d talked about stuck windows. Tony suggested that she unstick herself. So she’d shrugged and said she had tried it once but the unsticking hadn’t gone well.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Kathleen “Kathy” Terese Wade, Anthony “Tony” L. Carbo
Page Number: 227
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 23 Quotes

Curiously, as he worked out the details, Wade found himself experiencing a dull new sympathy for his father. This was how it was. You go about your business. You carry the burdens, entomb yourself in silence, conceal demon-history from all others and most times from yourself. Nothing theatrical … and then one day you discover a length of clothesline. You amaze yourself.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), John Herman Wade, Paul Wade
Page Number: 241
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 25 Quotes

Why do we care about Lizzie Borden, or Judge Carter, or Lee Harvey Oswald, or the Little Big Horn? Because of all that cannot be known. And what if we did know? What if it were proved—absolutely and purely—that Lizzie Borden took an ax? That Oswald acted alone? That Judge Carter fell into Sicilian hands? Nothing more would beckon, nothing would tantalize.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Lizzie Borden, Lee Harvey Oswald
Page Number: 266
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 29 Quotes

And here in a corner of John Wade’s imagination, where things neither live nor die, Kathy stares up at him from beneath the surface of the silvered lake. Her eyes are brilliant green, her expression alert. Se tries to speak, but can’t. She belongs to the angle. Not quite present, not quite gone, she swims in the blending twilight of in between.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), John Herman Wade, Kathleen “Kathy” Terese Wade
Related Symbols: The Lake
Page Number: 288
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 30 Quotes

It’s odd how the mind erases horror. All the evidence suggests that John Wade was able to perform a masterly forgetting trick for nearly two decades, somehow coping, pushing it all away, and from my own experience, I can understand how he kept things buried.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), John Herman Wade
Related Symbols: Magic
Page Number: 298
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 31 Quotes

If all is supposition, if ending is air, then why not happiness? Are we so cynical, so sophisticated, as to write off even the chance of happy ending?

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 299
Explanation and Analysis:

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Narrator Character Timeline in In the Lake of the Woods

The timeline below shows where the character Narrator appears in In the Lake of the Woods. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5: Hypothesis
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
...simple, honest man, totally unlike her deceptive, secretive husband. This is only a possibility, the narrator acknowledges. (full context)
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
...John about her secret lover. She may have staged her own disappearance—this is unlikely, the narrator admits, but not impossible. She could have woken up early, arranged for her lover to... (full context)
Chapter 6: Evidence
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
The narrator quotes other books, such as The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon, and academic... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Nature of Marriage
Appearance, the Unknowable, and Magic Theme Icon
...thereafter. Kathy says it’s scary how much she loves him. John, or “Sorcerer,” as the narrator calls him, thinks to himself that he must guard his secrets, and never reveal the... (full context)
Chapter 9: Hypothesis
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
...gone inside and seen the plants John killed. At this, she may have left—or, the narrator admits, maybe not. Maybe she walked into the bedroom, where she smelled wet wool and... (full context)
Chapter 10: The Nature of Love
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
The narrator returns to describing John’s experiences in Vietnam. One evening, Charlie Company approaches a small village.... (full context)
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Sorcerer, the narrator says, thought he would get away with murder. Shooting PFC Weatherby was an accident, just... (full context)
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Appearance, the Unknowable, and Magic Theme Icon
In Vietnam, the narrator says, Sorcerer is in his element. Vietnam is a place with tunnels, trap doors, monsters,... (full context)
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Appearance, the Unknowable, and Magic Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
...matter.” She says, “We’ll be fine.” As John and Kathy look at each other, the narrator says, anything could have happened. (full context)
Chapter 11: What He Did Next
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
...newspapers what John is capable of. John imagines steam rising from Kathy’s eye sockets. The narrator says such a scene is “impossible, of course.” John turns and runs to his Buick. (full context)
Chapter 14: Hypothesis
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
The narrator suggests that Kathy might have drowned in a boating accident. She might have awoken early... (full context)
Appearance, the Unknowable, and Magic Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
...injuring Kathy and throwing her into the water. Maybe this is how she died, the narrator concludes. (full context)
Chapter 17: The Nature of Politics
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
...plenty of time before they need to have children. John made a phone call, the narrator says, and forms were signed. He stands in a clinic, looking at himself in the... (full context)
Chapter 18: Hypothesis
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
As Kathy drove back to John’s cottage, the narrator speculates, she might have felt curiously fearless. Perhaps she felt this way because she was... (full context)
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
As Kathy walked ashore, the narrator suggests, she may have been thinking of the night long ago when she and John... (full context)
Chapter 20: Evidence
Appearance, the Unknowable, and Magic Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
...saying, “Forget the dentist!” and accusing the questioner of being “obsessed.” In a footnote, the narrator urges the reader to look ahead to a later footnote. (full context)
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
The chapter ends with the footnote that the narrator had previous urged the reader to pair with Pat’s quote about being obsessed with “the... (full context)
Chapter 21: The Nature of the Spirit
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
...and men with missing limbs. Sorcerer tells himself that it is all an illusion. The narrator writes that Sorcerer isn’t fooled. (full context)
Chapter 22: Hypothesis
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
...after Kathy went ashore with her boat, as described in Chapter 18. Around dawn, the narrator speculates, Kathy uses her Girl Scout training to build a small fire, using a pile... (full context)
Chapter 24: Hypothesis
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
In this hypothesis about Kathy’s disappearance, the narrator suggests that Kathy had already left John in the summer of 1983, when she had... (full context)
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Appearance, the Unknowable, and Magic Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
...fun with John. Her affair with Harmon was proof that she was unhappy. Perhaps, the narrator concludes, Kathy stares out onto Lake of the Woods and whispers, “Why?” The answer to... (full context)
Chapter 25: Evidence
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
In a footnote corresponding to Eleanor’s final comment, the narrator asks, rhetorically, why anybody should care about murderers like Lizzie Borden or Lee Harvey Oswald.... (full context)
Chapter 27: Hypothesis
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
The narrator suggests that John wraps Kathy in a sheet and carries her to the dock. He... (full context)
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Perhaps, the narrator suggests, John sank along with Kathy for a while before he let the body go... (full context)
Chapter 28: How He Went Away
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
...about his actions at Thuan Yen. He told her “everything he could tell,” though the narrator doesn’t recount exactly what this means. In his boat, John thinks that he doesn’t consider... (full context)
Chapter 29: The Nature of the Angles
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
The narrator notes that Kathy Wade, lying at the bottom of the lake, watches fish swimming. In... (full context)
Chapter 30: Evidence
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
...left the cottage. Ruth emphasizes that John and Kathy are gone, and says that the narrator should get back to his own life. A quote from Jay Robert Nash suggests that... (full context)
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
In a footnote to Thinbill’s final comment, the narrator discusses the peculiarities of memory. Like John, the narrator has his own old man with... (full context)
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Perhaps, the narrator continues, humans have the power to grow from trauma by forgetting. Strangely, the narrator says,... (full context)
Chapter 31: Hypothesis
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
The narrator offers one last hypothesis for what happened to John and Kathy. After a book of... (full context)
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
In two consecutive footnotes, the narrator discusses the proper way to end his story. One could believe that John poured boiling... (full context)
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Perhaps, the narrator suggests, John rejoined Kathy in Buckete Island or Massacre Island. They reunited, and sat around... (full context)
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Appearance, the Unknowable, and Magic Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
In a footnote to the above passage, the narrator says that his heart tells him to end the novel here. But this would be... (full context)
Vietnam, Authorship, Interpretation Theme Icon
War, Memory, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evil, Human Nature, and Freedom Theme Icon
Appearance, the Unknowable, and Magic Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
...of John alone on Lake of the Woods, heading north, “lost in the tangle.” The narrator asks if it’s possible that John was a man, not a monster, and if he... (full context)