Synopses & Reviews
A striking debut novel about boarding school, hardcore Scrabble, and frackingand#8212;a new kind of environmental novel by an important voice in the debate about fracking in America.
When the tap water at the Hale Boarding School for Boys bursts into flames, people blame fracking. Life at Hale has always been fraughtand#8212;the swim test consists of being thrown into the pool with wrists and ankles tied, and a boy can be expelled if he and a girl keep fewer than and#8220;three feet on the floor.and#8221; But the sight of combustible drinking water and the possibility that fracking is making Hale kids sick turn one student into an unlikely hero in the fight to stop the controversial drilling practice.
Winston Crwth, a Scrabble prodigy whose baffling last name rhymes with and#8220;truth,and#8221; knows what itand#8217;s like to be and#8220;fractured,and#8221; having grown up with his father in Philadelphia and his mother in California. On Winstonand#8217;s comic journey to the Pennsylvania State Scrabble Championship, where he hopes to win an audience with beauty-queen-turned-governor Linda King LaRue, he matches wits with Thomasina Wodtke-Weir, the headmasterand#8217;s prematurely gray daughter and the most popular (read: only) girl at school; the state poet laureate, whose verse consists of copying out dictionary entries and restroom graffiti; and David Dark, son of the CEO of Dark Oil and Gas, the source of Winstonand#8217;s scholarship money.
The Fracking King is a fantastically inventive debut about rowing crew, using all your tiles, and trying to save the world.
"[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
"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)
The author of the genre-defining memoir This Boy's Life and The Barracks Thief now presents his first novel about a young boy at New England prep school obsessed with visiting authors.
The author of the genre-defining memoir This Boys Life,
the PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novella The Barracks Thief,
and short stories acclaimed as modern classics, Tobias Wolff now gives us his first novel.
Determined to fit in at his New England prep school, the narrator has learned to mimic the bearing and manners of his adoptive tribe while concealing as much as possible about himself. His final year, however, unravels everything hes achieved, and steers his destiny in directions no one could have predicted.
The schools mystique is rooted in Literature, and for many boys this becomes an obsession, editing the review and competing for the attention of visiting writers whose fame helps to perpetuate the tradition. Robert Frost, soon to appear at JFKs inauguration, is far less controversial than the next visitor, Ayn Rand. But the final guest is one whose blessing a young writer would do almost anything to gain.
No one writes more astutely than Wolff about the process by which character is formed, and here he illuminates the irresistible power, even the violence, of the self-creative urge. Resonant in ways at once contemporary and timeless, Old School is a masterful achievement by one of the finest writers of our time.
A novel about boarding school, hardcore Scrabble fanatics, and frackingand#8212;a new kind of environmental novel by a spokesman and chief strategist for Common Cause.
The Fracking King
and#160;follows Winston Crwthand#8212;a boarding-school kid, loner, and Scrabble prodigyand#8212;who becomes an unlikely hero in the fight to stop fracking in Pennsylvania. Truth is a rare commodity in politics, and the idea of and#8220;winningand#8221; a debate as cleanly and simply as youand#8217;d win a Scrabble game can seem impossible. But with the truth on his side, a jar of toxic and#8220;frackwater,and#8221; and the belief that he can win a Scrabble tournament whose first prize is a meeting with the governor, Winston creates a moment of devastating truth for her and for the people who want to frack the state.
For all its thoughtful environmental concerns, The Fracking King is also a hopeful book about the power of believing in yourself and pursuing your own particular genius. Winstonand#8217;s Scrabble prowess has its freakish side, but it also makes him genuinely heroic, and his lexical predicaments are funny, shocking, dirty, and sometimes mind-boggling. This is the rare, satisfying debut thatand#8217;s as playful as it is profound.
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.