Wolff electrified critics with his scarifying 1989 memoir, which many deemed as notable for its artful structure and finely wrought prose as for the events it describes. The story is pretty grim: Teenage Wolff moves with his divorced mother from Florida to Utah to Washington state to escape her violent boyfriend. When she remarries, Wolff finds himself in a bitter battle of wills with his abusive stepfather, a contest in which the two prove to be more evenly matched than might have been supposed. Deception, disguise, and illusion are the weapons the young man learns to employ as he grows up—not bad training for a writer-to-be. Somber though this tale of family strife is, it is also darkly funny and so artistically satisfying that most readers come away exhilarated rather than depressed.
Tobias gives an overview of the book:
Born in Alabama in 1945, Tobias Wolff traveled the country with his peripatetic mother, finally settling in Washington State, where he grew up. As a scholarship student, he attended the Hill School in Pennsylvania until he was expelled for repeated failures in mathematics in...
So absolutely clear and hypnotic is Tobias Wolff’s painful memoir of growing up in the 1950s that a reader wants to take it apart and find some simple way to describe why it works so beautifully.
Who wants to read yet another novel about a teenage boy … who feels awkward and out of place at a New England prep school? Then again, you know you’re in the hands of a great writer if you think you’ve...