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17 August 1989
This Boy’s Life 
by Tobias Wolff.
Bloomsbury, 292 pp., £12.95, April 1989, 0 7475 0274 9
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... Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life is the story of two boys, Toby and Jack. Toby is an ‘A’ grade student, a boy deeply concerned about the world’s esteem, a loyal support to his mother, destined for Princeton like his brother Geoffrey. Jack is a liar and a thief, graceless and violent. Both are versions of Tobias Wolff himself, alternating throughout this exhilarating memoir of his childhood ...

Bad Dads

Zachary Leader

6 April 1995
In Pharaoh’s Army: Memories of a Lost War 
by Tobias Wolff.
Bloomsbury, 210 pp., £12.99, November 1994, 0 7475 1919 6
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Tallien: A Brief Romance 
by Frederic Tuten.
Marion Boyars, 152 pp., £9.95, November 1994, 0 7145 2990 7
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Roommates: My Grandfather’s Story 
by Max Apple.
Little, Brown, 241 pp., £12.99, November 1994, 0 316 91241 7
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... Personal identity, according to Locke, is a creation of memory. The American writer Tobias Wolff has already published one volume of memoirs. Now, at the age of 49, he has produced a second. Who can blame him? His father was a conman and impostor: Arthur Samuels Wolff, aka Arthur Saunders Wolff III, aka Saunders Answell-Wolff III, the ‘Duke’ of Tobias’s brother Geoffrey’s memoir, The Duke of Deception (1979 ...

Worlds Apart

Nicholas Spice

6 March 1986
Kiss of the Spider Woman 
by Manuel Puig, translated by Thomas Colchie.
Arena, 281 pp., £2.95, January 1986, 0 09 934200 6
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Back in the World 
by Tobias Wolff.
Cape, 221 pp., £8.95, January 1986, 0 224 02343 8
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... and feelings that commonly deface the surfaces of our mental life, ‘back in the world’, in Tobias Wolff’s trenchant phrase, where the problem is mostly not that things don’t last but precisely that they do. As, for example, these thoughts of Mark’s in the story ‘Desert Breakdown, 1968’:     Mark felt that he had been ...

Stifled Truth

Wyatt Mason: Tobias Wolff and fictions of the self

5 February 2004
Old School 
by Tobias Wolff.
Bloomsbury, 195 pp., £12.99, February 2004, 0 7475 6948 7
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... of some nursery tale, or a fiction about a writer writing the fiction you are reading,’ Tobias Wolff confessed in his 1993 introduction to the Picador Book of Contemporary American Stories. Writing fiction about a writer who is writing the fiction we are reading, Wolff would have us understand, is obscene. A ...
1 June 2000
Driving the Heart 
by Jason Brown.
Cape, 224 pp., £10, January 2000, 0 224 06053 8
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... story writers who emerged around the same time as him, and who share certain broad similarities: Tobias Wolff, Bobbie Ann Mason and Ann Beattie all use an austere, melancholic naturalism, tinged with the grotesque, that owes something to Anderson’s successors – early Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Faulkner. In the 1980s, short fiction established ...

Kill the tuna can

Christopher Tayler: George Saunders

8 June 2006
The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil and In Persuasion Nation 
by George Saunders.
Bloomsbury, 358 pp., £10.99, June 2006, 0 7475 8221 1
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... at Syracuse University, where he studied creative writing under the auspices of Doug Unger and Tobias Wolff. After finishing the course, he worked as a technical writer and environmental engineer until 1996, when he published his first short-story collection, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. This was praised by Thomas Pynchon as well as ...

Most losers are self-made men

Theo Tait: Richard Ford

5 July 2012
Canada 
by Richard Ford.
Bloomsbury, 420 pp., £18.99, June 2012, 978 0 7475 9860 2
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... between various American writers who emerged in the 1970s and early 1980s, particularly Ford, Tobias Wolff and Raymond Carver. (Ford has said that Carver didn’t mind when ‘I adopted as my own’ the direct style of his short story openings.) They tended to write about ordinary, hard lives in a spare, detached way, with much attention to surface ...

Ink-Dot Eyes

Wyatt Mason: Jonathan Franzen

2 August 2007
The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History 
by Jonathan Franzen.
Harper Perennial, 195 pp., £8.99, July 2007, 978 0 00 723425 7
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... appeal for both writers and readers: the unburdening of guilt, vicarious or otherwise. But as Tobias Wolff cautioned in his mordant memoir of military service during the Vietnam War, In Pharaoh’s Army: ‘Isn’t there, in the very act of confession, an obscene self-congratulation for the virtue required to see your mistake and own up to ...

He will need a raincoat

Blake Morrison: Fathers and Sons

13 July 2016
The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between 
by Hisham Matar.
Viking, 276 pp., £14.99, June 2016, 978 0 670 92333 5
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... than a bit) of a rogue, as, variously, Greer, Ackerley, David Cornwell (a.k.a. John le Carré) and Tobias Wolff did. Ackerley’s left two letters, ‘to be read only in the case of my death’, in which he revealed his ‘secret orchard’: the mistress and three daughters he’d been hiding for many years. Ackerley’s first reaction to the duplicity ...

Zoning Out and In

Christopher Tayler: Richard Ford

30 November 2006
The Lay of the Land 
by Richard Ford.
Bloomsbury, 485 pp., £17.99, October 2006, 0 7475 8188 6
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... The ex-writer persona lets Ford combine a distrust of obvious artifice, shared with his friends Tobias Wolff and Carver, with the garrulousness and wide range of reference of the grand old postwar American novelists. Big chunks of plot are dealt with briskly in flashback, as compressed as 1980s short stories, while drives to the turnpike or brief ...

Tickle and Flutter

Terry Castle: Maude Hutchins’s Revenge

3 July 2008
... in the cherishable American line of Twain, Cather, Salinger, Updike, Capote, McCullers, Welty and Tobias Wolff. Victorine is a precocious child-woman in the mode of Frankie in The Member of the Wedding: intrigued by adult secrets but terrified to plumb them too deeply. At 16, her brother Costello is further along in the developmental process ...

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