Saturday, March 24, 2007

Old School

Acclaimed memoirist and short story writer Tobias Wolff sets his first novel at a New England boarding school in the 1960's. The students at this school are all obsessed with literature and fixated on a writing competition that allows a meeting with a famed visiting writer, including Robert Frost, Ayn Rand, and rumored Ernest Hemingway. The unnamed narrator becomes obsessed with winning this contest. Confronting the blank page, he ends up composing an entry that will later come back to haunt him. The narrator reflects on this period from middle age, having become a writer, and his reflections upon his boyhood are itself riddled with passages on memory and writing and, maybe above all, deception. This book has a lot to say about literature and writing and memory. I especially liked the visiting authors--Ayn Rand behaves exactly as one might expect, but Wolff also does a good job of explaining the thrall her philosophy has over young people in particular and why they may also later turn away from it.

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