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Our Story Begins: New and Selected Storiesby Tobias Wolff
Synopses & Reviews
Bullet in the Brain
Anders couldn't get to the bank until just before it closed, so of course the line was endless and he got stuck behind two women whose loud, stupid conversation put him in a murderous temper. He was never in the best of tempers anyway, Anders--a book critic known for the weary, elegant savagery with which he dispatched almost everything he reviewed.
With the line still doubled around the rope, one of the tellers stuck a POSITION CLOSED sign in her window and walked to the back of the bank, where she leaned against a desk and began to pass the time with a man shuffling papers. The women in front of Anders broke off their conversation and watched the teller with hatred. Oh, that's nice, one of them said. She turned to Anders and added, confident of his accord, One of those little human touches that keep us coming back for more.
Anders had conceived his own towering hatred of the teller, but he immediately turned it on the presumptuous crybaby in front of him. Damned unfair, he said. Tragic, really. If they're not chopping off the wrong leg or bombing your ancestral village, they're closing their positions.
She stood her ground. I didn't say it was tragic, she said. I just think it's a pretty lousy way to treat your customers.
Unforgivable, Anders said. Heaven will take note.
She sucked in her cheeks but stared past him and said nothing. Anders saw that her friend was looking in the same direction. And then the tellers stopped what they were doing, the other customers slowly turned, and silence came over the bank. Two men wearing black ski masks and blue business suits were standing to the side of the door. One of them had a pistol pressed against the guard's neck. The guard's eyes were closed, and his lips were moving. The other man had a sawed-off shotgun. Keep your big mouth shut the man with the pistol said, though no one had spoken a word. One of you tellers hits the alarm, you're all dead meat.
Oh, bravo, Anders said. 'Dead meat.' He turned to the woman in front of him. Great script, eh? The stern, brass-knuckled poetry of the dangerous classes.
She looked at him with drowning eyes.
The man with the shotgun pushed the guard to his knees. He handed the shotgun to his partner and yanked the guard's wrists up behind his back and locked them together with a pair of handcuffs. He toppled him onto the floor with a kick between the shoulder blades, then took his shotgun back and went over to the security gate at the end of the counter. He was short and heavy and moved with peculiar slowness. Buzz him in, his partner said. The man with the shotgun opened the gate and sauntered along the line of tellers, handing each of them a plastic bag. When he came to the empty position he looked over at the man with the pistol, who said, Whose slot is that?
Anders watched the teller. She put her hand to her throat and turned to the man she'd been talked to. He nodded. Mine, she said.
Then get your ugly ass in gear and fill that bag.
There you go, Anders said to the woman in front of him. Justice is done.
Hey Bright boy Did I tell you to talk?
This collection of stories-twenty-one classics followed by ten potent new stories--displays Tobias Wolff's exquisite gifts over a quarter century.
From theTrade Paperback edition.
“One of our most exquisite storytellers” (Esquire) gives us his first collection in over a decade: ten potent new stories that, along with twenty-one classics, display his mastery over a quarter century.
Tobias Wolff’s first two books, In the Garden of the North American Martyrs and Back in the World, were a powerful demonstration of how the short story can “provoke our amazed appreciation,” as The New York Times Book Review wrote then. In the years since, he’s written a third collection, The Night in Question, as well as a pair of genre-defining memoirs (This Boy’s Life and In Pharaoh’s Army), the novella The Barracks Thief, and, most recently, a novel, Old School.
Now he returns with fresh revelations—about biding one’s time, or experiencing first love, or burying one’s mother—that come to a variety of characters in circumstances at once everyday and extraordinary: a retired Marine enrolled in college while her son trains for Iraq, a lawyer taking a difficult deposition, an American in Rome indulging the Gypsy who’s picked his pocket. In these stories, as with his earlier, much-anthologized work, he once again proves himself, according to the Los Angeles Times, “a writer of the highest order: part storyteller, part philosopher, someone deeply engaged in asking hard questions that take a lifetime to resolve.”
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.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Table of Contents
Selected stories. In the garden of the North American martyrs — Next door — Hunters in the snow — The liar — Soldier's joy — The rich brother — Leviathan — Desert breakdown — Say yes — Mortals — Flyboys — Sanity — The other miller — Two boys and a girl — The chain — Smorgasbord — Lady's dream — Powder — The night in question — Firelight — Bullet in the brain — New stories. That room — Awaiting orders — A white Bible — Her dog — A mature student — The deposition — Down to bone — Nightingale — The benefit of the doubt — Deep kiss.
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