Our Story Begins, By Tobias Wolff

Click to follow

Before reading this, I knew of the American writer Tobias Wolff by reputation but, to my shame, had never read any of his work. Our Story Begins was a revelation. It's right up there with the very best of Raymond Carver, William Trevor and Flannery O'Connor. It comprises 21 previously published (though lightly revised) stories, plus 10 new ones.

Of the older stories, "In the Garden of North American Martyrs" (for which Wolff received the O Henry Award for short stories in 1981) is a bitter, beautifully written satire on the stultifying lack of freedom of thought in US universities; "The Chain" is a morality tale of how bad actions breed more bad actions, both painful and painfully funny; "Bullet in the Brain" is a tour de force in which a sour, disappointed, resentful old literary critic gets shot in the head during a bank robbery, because he can't resist laughing at the robbers' clichéd dialogue – and as the bullet travels through his brain, he experiences one final epiphanic childhood memory which takes him back to his true self.

Of the new stories, "Her Dog", a story of bereavement and grief that grants a completely plausible voice and viewpoint to a dog, and "Deep Kiss", a tale of teenage sexual obsession which lasts a lifetime, stand out. But really they all deserve special mention.

Wolff's style is both consummately literary and addictively readable. The first lines pull you in like magnets: "My friend Clark and I decided to build a jet plane"; "Getting from La Jolla to Alta Vista State Hospital isn't easy, unless you have a car or a breakdown"; "My mother read everything except books". And by the end of every story you've been taken on a journey that helps you understand life, and human nature, just a little bit better.

Comments