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Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories Paperback – April 7, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Wolff's first story collection, In the Garden of the North American Martyrs (1981), was a major salvo in the short story renaissance that included Raymond Carver. The 10 spare, elegant new stories here, collected with 21 stories from Wolff's three previous collections, are as good as anything Wolff has done. In most, there is a moment of realization, less a startling epiphany than a distant, gradual ache of understanding, that changes how the character looks at the world. The retired, 41-year-old female Marine of A Mature Student, compares her female professor's experiences in Communist-era Prague and her own son's service in Iraq. Deep Kiss movingly chronicles the fractious results when a teenaged boy, infatuated with a promiscuous classmate, neglects to bond with his dying father. A hilarious description of a brash, ignorant thug in Her Dog shows Wolff's gift for demotic speech. In an author's note, Wolff says that since he has never considered any of his stories sacred texts, he has edited some clumsy or superfluous passages in earlier works. In all the stories, Wolff expertly uses irony and empathy to explore facets of contemporary life. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

A long-recognized master of the short story genre, Wolff brings together 21 favorite stories culled from three previous collections and adds, for this occasion, 10 new stories never before gathered in book form. This retrospective of his three-decades-long career testifies to the short story being his natural agent for personal expression. The opening story, “In the Garden of the North American Martyrs,” a widely acknowledged masterpiece, satirizes academe, specifically the pretensions inherent in professorial posturing, at the same time sensitively understanding a college professor who gets her quiet revenge against merciless colleagues. Wolff’s understanding of the tender aspects of character surfaces in another masterpiece, “Soldier’s Joy,” which is set on a military base, and, in parallel with the previously discussed story, pecking order rules the day and everyone’s life. In any story, in all of  them, Wolff dexterously probes, in immaculately clear prose, the core of ordinary people’s passions and vulnerabilities. --Brad Hooper --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; Reprint edition (April 7, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400095972
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400095971
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,361 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Let me say it straight out -- Tobias Wolff is an absolute genius in crafting stories. This collection -- ten absorbing new stories combined with twenty-one of his anthologized works -- is pitch perfect in every regard.

These are not stories that forces the reader to dig deep for symbolism and didacticism. Each is accessible, but each also presents a universal truth that somehow, someway, burrows its way straight into the reader's own mind and heart. This reader kept pausing and thinking, "But how did he KNOW that? How an he possibly be so empathetic and get it so darn RIGHT?"

There's the at-loose-ends professor with a one hopeful chance, who finally finds the courage to give back as much as is dished out to her. The hunters in the snow who stand up to a bully. The American in Rome who feels a strange connection with the gypsy who picked his pocket. A night in question, where filial connections are explored. A first love that never stops haunting the now successful man.

Many of these stories are ordinary occurrences that rise to the extraordinary. Many involve regular folks who gain the authenticity to truly become themselves...or to discover the meaning behind their lives and their actions. I know I will not soon forget many of these characters, who in ten or fifteen pages, solidly come to life.

For anyone who wants to explore the human condition -- our cowardice, our selfishness, our dreams, our connectiveness -- I urge you to read Tobias Wolff. He's the real thing.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Tobias Wolff's latest collection of short stories, written over a period of thirty years, contains twenty-one previously published in book form with ten new stories added. The characters and situations are diverse although a good many stories take place in the snow; as one character says, however-- and I tend to agree with him-- snow is much overrated. I also agree with the writer Edward P. Jones whose definition of a good short story is one that "the world, for even one character, has shifted, whether to a large or a tiny degree." These stories (at least practically all of them) would interest Mr. Jones. In some of them the shift is enormous: a bank customer is shot in the head by a robber; one hunter shoots a friend, a fellow hunter; a young man in an act of definace paints a white picket fence red; a professor, having learned that she has been duped into interviewing for a teaching position that the search committee has already decided on, veers from her canned lecture on the Marshall Plan into an extemporaneous speech about the barbarism of the Iroquois. In others the world moves inside the head of the character. In "Awaiting Orders" a sergeant realizes that he is ashamed to take a woman and her child home with him, not because he has a male lover, but because she will see that he doesn't care for the lover as much as the lover cares for him. "What he feared, what he could not allow, was for her to see how Dixon [his lover] looked at him, and then to see that he coud not give back what he received. That things between them were unequal, and himself unloving." A man at the death watch for his mother no longer knows how to be a son but can be a father.

Mr.
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Format: Hardcover
"I think that this is a great set of stories and it gives me - from my European point-of-view - a fascinating insight view into the lives of more or less `ordinary' American citizens. And that in a very unorthodox, `alert" style.

So every time I end one of the brilliant stories in this collection I think: "How does Mr Wolff do it, how can he make such masterly stories with the help of such a clean-cut choice of words and terms? And conversations and settings?

But then I give it up; Tim O'Brien is right: this phenomenon cannot be explained. And I? I simply go on reading these great stories."
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Format: Hardcover
Short stories are what I love, so I bought Tobias Wolff's latest collection and read it from cover to cover. (The ragged paper edging and beautiful typeface are something a booklover like myself notices). What I found in the "Note From the Author" at the front of the book surprised me.

Never before have I come across a prominent writer who was publishing new stories and simultaneously re-editing previously published works. Revising already published work struck me as going overboard on perfectionism, and I questioned the appropriateness of tampering with what was already printed for a wide audience.

Personally, I appreciate an artist's early works (with whatever "flaws"). They serve a valuable function by allowing new writers and serious readers the opportunity to follow the growth of a favorite writer. Original works are part of the process of publishing and they should be preserved rather than altered in light of the writer's heightened skills. For most readers this probably makes no difference, but personally, I hope it doesn't become common practice. Sharing that information at the opening of this volume demonstates both respect for readers and admirable ethics.

Wolff has the uncanny ability to slip inside the heads of his characters and weave dialogue, traits, and surroundings that feels so authentic that the reader accepts his fictional beings as real people. The wide range of settings and situations from which his stories spring distinguishes him among modern short story writers. In addition, the sensitivity with which he draws both male and female characters is unique. It is remarkable how he intuits female emotional triggers so accurately.
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