It's 1960, in America, at a prestigious boys' public school, a place of privilege that places great emphasis on its democratic ideals. A teenage boy, in his final year and on a scholarship, has learned to fit in with his adoptive tribe while concealing as much as possible about himself and his background. Class is ever present, but the only ...
It's 1960, in America, at a prestigious boys' public school, a place of privilege that places great emphasis on its democratic ideals. A teenage boy, in his final year and on a scholarship, has learned to fit in with his adoptive tribe while concealing as much as possible about himself and his background. Class is ever present, but the only acknowledged snobbery is a literary snobbery. These boys' heroes are writers - Fitzgerald, cummings, Kerouac. They want to be writers themselves, and the school has a tradition whereby once a term big names from the literary world are invited to visit. A contest takes place with the boys submitting a piece of writing and the winner having a private audience with the visitor. When it is announced that Hemingway will be the next to come to the school, competition among the boys is intense, and the morals the school and the boys hold dear - honour, loyalty and friendship - become severely tested. No one writes more astutely than Wolff about the process by which character is formed, and here he illuminates the irresistible strength, even the violence, of the self-creative urge. This is a novel that, in its power and its beauty, in its precision and its humanity, is at once contemporary and timeless.
Publishers Weekly, 2003-10-13 A scholarship boy at a New England prep school grapples with literary ambition and insecurity in this lucid, deceptively sedate novel, set in the early 1960s and narrated by the unnamed protagonist from the vantage point of adulthood. Each year, the school hosts a number of visiting writers, and the boys in the top form are allowed to compete for a private audience by composing a poem or story. The narrator judges the skills of his competitors, avidly exposing his classmates' weaknesses and calculating their potential ("I knew better than to write George off.... He could win.... Bill was a contender"). His own chances are hurt by his inability to be honest with himself and examine his ambivalent feelings about his Jewish roots. After failing to win audiences with Robert Frost and Ayn Rand, he is determined to be chosen by the last and best guest, legendary Ernest Hemingway. The anxiety of influence afflicts all the boys, but in crafting his final literary offering, the narrator discovers inspiration in imitation, finding his voice in someone else's. The novel's candid, retrospective narration ruefully depicts its protagonist's retreat further and further behind his public facade ("I'd been absorbed so far into my performance that nothing else came naturally"). Beneath its staid trappings, this is a sharply ironic novel, in which love of literature is counterbalanced by bitter disappointment (as one character bluntly puts it, "[Writing] just cuts you off and makes you selfish and doesn't really do any good"). Wolff, an acclaimed short story writer (The Night in Question, etc.) and author of the memoir This Boy's Life, here offers a delicate, pointed meditation on the treacherous charms of art. (Nov. 9) Forecast: This is Wolff's first full-length novel (and his first book in seven years) and as such will likely receive much critical attention. Fans of the author's short stories-regularly published in the New Yorker-should be pleased by his departure from form. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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