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Paperback This Boy's Life: A Memoir Book

ISBN: 0802136680

ISBN13: 9780802136688

This Boy's Life: A Memoir

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Book Overview

The 30th anniversary edition of Tobias Wolff's "extraordinary memoir" (SF Chronicle), now with a new introduction by the author

Customer Reviews

4 ratings

This Boy's Life

This Boy's Life is a wonderful saga of a young boy's realization that he can overcome his problems and become a mature and successful man. The author has a wonderful understanding of adolescence and the book is extremely well written and absorbing.

"When we are green, we believe that our dreams are rights."

Leaving Sarasota, Florida, in a run-down Nash Rambler in 1955, Toby Wolff, then ten, and his mother are looking forward to a new life in Utah. Not long after arriving, however, the two make a sudden, night-time departure for newer pastures in Seattle--the mother's abusive relationship in Utah having become intolerable. Later Toby and his mother gravitate to Chinook, a remote village in the Cascades. His mother marries a tough man who cruelly punishes Toby (who has changed his name to Jack in honor of Jack London) for infractions, sells some of Toby's treasured belongings, and tries to impose military discipline on him. Wolff's story of his grim life from age ten through high school is a breath-taking recreation, filled with the sorts of longings that motivate sensitive young boys everywhere, but also filled with an a self-awareness that is rare in such autobiographies. Jack (Toby) is a rebel--a sometime kleptomaniac, thief, cheater, liar, and schoolboy miscreant who loves his mother, hates his stepfather (and generally tries to avoid him), and hangs out with similarly alienated, hell-raising schoolmates, who often "escape" through alcohol. When his brother (who remained with his father), encourages Jack to apply as a scholarship student to an eastern boarding school, thereby escaping his stepfather, he is intrigued with the idea, though he has had few academic interests until then. The story of how Wolff manages to attend a prep school is a classic. (The fictionalized story of his boarding school life appears in his recent novel, Old School.) Throughout this self-examination, hilariously funny in many places and remarkably astute, Jack sees himself as the "Jack" he invents to suit circumstances, while simultaneously revealing himself as he really is, the hidden "Jack." Like many his age, he often takes the easy way out, and he recognizes this, too. As he grapples with perennial issues of growing up, needing to be accepted, learning what is "right," and changing his behavior to meet the differing expectations of peers and family, he comes to new understandings about himself and his place in the world. One of the best and most honest coming-of-age stories ever written, This Boy's Life is a modern classic. Mary Whipple

A Masterful Writer Forged Through Fire

This book proved a superb read. In all seriousness, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I do so because, beyond his instinctive narrative style that both captivates and delights, Wolff substantiates the hard and fast rule in life that no matter how difficult of a childhood, one can always improve upon oneself. Wolff is currently a professor at Stanford (unless things have changed without my knowledge), earned his B.A. at Oxford and received his M.S. at Stanford as well. This is incredible considering the childhood he laid out in This Boy's Life. Wolff was not a good little boy, to say the least. He was guilty of lying, stealing, cursing, fighting, forgery, and being rather unattached to anything or anyone but his mother. He spent several years with an abusive stepfather who, while never out-and-out beating him, put him through psychological trauma just as severe. It's amazing this man has become one of America's greatest writers, but I suppose all great talent was forged in blazing fires. Wolff does not mince words and, while not a simple read, his memoir it moves very quickly. He did a masterful job of pacing the narrative so as to make things suspenseful without any truly dramatic plot twists. After all, this is his real life. Real life is something that happens, not something that follows a plot line. Wolff takes his real life and weaves it into a fascinating tale that I couldn't put down. ~Scott William Foley, author of Souls Triumphant

"I had been in hiding, and I'd left a dummy in my place."

Leaving Sarasota, Florida, in a run-down Nash Rambler in 1955, Toby Wolff, then ten, and his mother are looking forward to a new life in Utah. Not long after arriving, however, the two make a sudden, night-time departure for newer pastures in Seattle--the mother's abusive relationship in Utah having become intolerable. Later Toby and his mother gravitate to Chinook, a remote village in the Cascades. His mother marries a tough man who cruelly punishes Toby (who has changed his name to Jack in honor of Jack London) for infractions, sells some of Toby's belongings, and tries to enforce military discipline on him. Wolff's story of his grim life from age ten through high school is a breath-taking recreation, filled with the sorts of longings that motivate sensitive young boys everywhere, but also filled with an a self-awareness that is rare in such autobiographies. Jack (Toby) is a rebel--a sometime kleptomaniac, thief, cheater, liar, and schoolboy miscreant who loves his mother, hates his stepfather (and generally tries to avoid him), and hangs out with similarly alienated, hell-raising schoolmates, who often "escape" through alcohol. When he is a sophomore in high school, he talks with his older brother for the first time in six years. His brother, now a student at Princeton, remained with his father when his parents split, and he encourages Jack to apply as a scholarship student to an eastern boarding school, thereby escaping his step-father and starting yet another new life. Jack's only academic interest to date has been in writing, thanks to the inspiration of his English teacher, but he is intrigued with the idea of escape. The story of how Wolff lies and cheats his way into a prep school is a classic. (The fictionalized story of his boarding school life appears in his recent novel, Old School.) Throughout this self-examination, which is hilariously funny in many places and remarkably astute, Jack sees himself as the "Jack" he invents to suit circumstances, while simultaneously revealing himself as he really is, the hidden "Jack." Like many his age, he often takes the easy way out, and he recognizes this, too. As he grapples with perennial issues of growing up, needing to be accepted, learning what is "right," and changing his behavior to meet the differing expectations of peers, family, and the preacher with whom he lives for three months, he comes to new understandings about himself and his place in the world. One of the best and most honest coming-of-age stories ever written, This Boy's Life is a modern classic. n Mary Whipple
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