Old School

Tobias Wolff

Nobody writes coming-of-age tales about sensitive boys better than Tobias Wolff, the author of This Boy’s Life (which was made into a searing film starring Robert De Niro and Leo DiCaprio). In Wolff’s newest book, the unnamed narrator is a scholarship student at a posh New England boys’ school in the early ’60s. Literature is the mystical religion at this school, and all of the boys seem to harbor dreams of becoming writers. These dreams are enhanced by the appearance of a literary star each year, in this case first Robert Frost, then Ayn Rand and then the big guy himself, Ernest Hemingway. Our narrator, who’s learned to mimic the style of his rich peers while keeping much about himself secret, strains to become what he most wishes to be, only to commit a breach so vast that it changes everything. Woolf’s prose is lapidarian, his insight into the adolescent mind penetrating. The section on Rand is especially wonderful.