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Old Schoolby Tobias Wolff
"It's 1961, and our narrator's final year at a very swanky, and very self-consciously literary, boarding school. The school's Little Lord Fauntleroys in-training are, with the exception of the narrator, rich, and they're all thoroughly enamored of the 'literary life.'...Remarkably, Old School, while Tobias Wolff's seventh book, is his first novel. It's an elegant ode to writers, and to writing, from one of our most exquisite storytellers." Adrienne Miller, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
"Throughout Old School, Wolff displays exceptional skill in capturing the small sights and sensations that evoke the whole rarefied world he's taking us back to....He conveys the sublimation and sexual messaging that occur all at once when the boys sing to a master's young wife ('It was a kind of ravishing'), and with the same exactitude discerns the boys' wary relations with one another....It can stand with the best of what some old boys (Louis Auchincloss, Richard Yates) have produced in a waning American genre." Thomas Mallon, The Atlantic Monthly (read the entire Atlantic review)
Synopses & Reviews
The protagonist of Tobias Wolff's shrewdly — and at times devastatingly — observed first novel is a boy at an elite prep school in 1960. He is an outsider who has learned to mimic the negligent manner of his more privileged classmates. Like many of them, he wants more than anything on earth to become a writer. But to do that he must first learn to tell the truth about himself.
The agency of revelation is the school literary contest, whose winner will be awarded an audience with the most legendary writer of his time. As the fever of competition infects the boy and his classmates, fraying alliances, exposing weaknesses, Old School explores the ensuing deceptions and betrayals with an unblinking eye and a bottomless store of empathy. The result is further evidence that Wolff is an authentic American master.
"Not a word is wasted in this spare, brilliant novel about the way that reading changes and forms our lives, and about how one learns to become a writer — and a conscious human being." Francine Prose, People
"Ingenious....A tour de force....Achieves a real profundity." The Boston Globe
"[A] marvelous novel with resonance for old and young alike. [Wolff's] storytelling is economical, his prose is elegant, and his meditations are utterly timeless. Some readers may wish to turn from the last page to the first and begin again." Keir Graff, Booklist
"A witty but ultimately rather pointless debut....Wolff writes well page by page....An odd pastiche that never coheres...Wolff offers some nice vignettes that add up to considerably less than the sum of their parts." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] fine offering, manly in spirit and style, less hangdog than the somewhat Carverian memoir....Wolff displays exceptional skill in capturing the small sights and sensations that evoke the whole rarefied world he's taking us back to..." Atlantic Monthly
"[A] lucid, deceptively sedate novel....Wolff...here offers a delicate, pointed meditation on the treacherous charms of art." Publishers Weekly
"It's not that Old School isn't perfectly readable — and at times highly entertaining — but it lacks the emotional chiaroscuro and effortless pacing of this author's best short stories and his classic 1989 memoir This Boy's Life..." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Wolff has delineated a glimpse of America on the threshold of transition, and he nails it clean, without resorting to triteness or sophistry or extraneous verbiage." Houston Chronicle
"In Old School, Wolff again proves himself a writer of the highest order: part storyteller, part philosopher, someone deeply engaged in asking hard questions that take a lifetime to resolve." Los Angeles Times
"A sharply drawn, acutely felt novel of moral inquiry....Wolff has put his readers in the landscape tracked across by writers as different as J. M. Coetzee, Philip Roth, and, going back, Conrad and Hawthorne." The Washington Post Book World
"The kind of deceptively quiet novel that deserves a second, slow reading. An homage to the power of story to move, to awaken and even to transform." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"You never quite know where memory and imagination meet in Old School, and Tobias Wolff has a grand old time toying with your suspicions....Wolff gets it right...about a time in life in which most things go unerringly wrong." The Oregonian (Portland, OR)
"With exquisite attention to detail, Wolff...evokes a time and place where the pursuit of literary excellence was nothing less than a sacred quest....Wolff creates a richly textured cast of characters..." San Antonio Express-News
"Reading this novel a few more times than I really had to, I've come to admire all the more the artful, understated play of cruelty as a binding element of the plot....The bygone time feels Roman, both proud and untrustworthy." Chicago Tribune
The author of the genre-defining memoir "This Boy's Life" now gives readers his first novel--at once a celebration of literature and delicate hymn to a lost innocence of American life and art.
About the Author
Tobias Wolff lives in Northern California and teaches at Stanford University. He has received the Rea Award for excellence in the short story, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the PEN/Faulkner Award.
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