Wednesday, February 21, 2024

9. This Boy's Life: a Memoir by Tobias Wolff

My sister really wanted me to read this as she quite enjoyed it.  I found it quite good but have trouble moving it into the excellent category.  I feel like these kinds of memoirs came out in the late 80s early 90s and furthermore these kinds of books are just not my jam.  I say all that to make clear my biases, because objectively speaking it is a really enjoyable and interesting read, with emotional and intellectual resonance.  It's Wolff's narrative of his own childhood following his divorced mother around as she tried to make a go of it in various cities.  The bulk of the narrative takes place in Chinook, Washington, where she eventually gave in to the ministrations of a pathetic and abusive mechanic named Dwight to marry her.  He is a real asshole, especially to Tobias, but the writing is so subtle in its tone that you are almost sympathetic to him rather than outraged, which I think is Wolff's ultimate revenge. 

It has a removed tone and a clear style, which made the pages really turn for me.  They are also a real counterpoint to today's youth culture of self-diagnosed anxiety and trauma as identity.  This kid really had a rough upbringing but he didn't realize it himself until much later.  There is no self-pity here, which makes you sympathize with him even more.  I am glad to hear that this book is sometimes used in the high school curriculum, because I think it portrays the freedom and fear that used to be childhood back before we started putting foam on every counter corner.

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