Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.
Showing posts with label Wolff. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wolff. Show all posts

01 January, 2014

Tobias Wolff, "All Ahead of Them"

Bud admits to himself that he has wed himself to a life-long problem, "Which meant that his wife of six days was a liar and a thief." Although his name is Thomas, he's been called Bud all of his life. His wife as well does not go by her given name, two impostors, if you will. They both have psychological baggage in their personal histories. The story is about those fraudulent moments in our lives in which we allow ourselves to become accessory after the fact. "It was shocking. That is, he supposed he should be shocked. But here was the fact, stipulated: he wasn't shocked."

Wolff weaves the complex duo of personalities into a seemingly simple story about a wedding and three wedding dresses and is set in motion by a phone call while the bride and groom are still on their honeymoon in Italy. Bud had promised Arden that he'd stop smoking and he had until he received the phone call that set him to contemplating how to fix this problem. Now he doesn't have to quit because he's openly complicit now. How dare she say anything? Although, we never see Arden in the story to know what she says when she supposedly will see him smoking.

The story is a very close third person POV and past tense. "All Ahead of Them" is only 5 pages long, probably more like 8 or 10 regular size pages. I was disappointed to read a cliche, "the words were swimming on the page."

Favorite lines:
"He lowered the back of the chair and closed his eyes, hoping to calm himself, but instead he saw himself from a distance, striking this easy pose, performing relaxation. For whom? For himself, to demonstrate how little shaken he was?"

"It was as if she didn't expect him to believe her, as if it were part of a game he'd bought into--as he guessed he had, because he had never called her on any of it."

Wikipedia page, Wolff
interview with Wolff about "All Ahead of Them" at The New Yorker

03 December, 2010

Tobias Wolff, "Say Yes"

"Say Yes" by Tobias Wolff is a short story, about 1500 words, written in a close third person POV of the husband. Ann, his wife, asked him why he didn't think white people should marry black people. Washing dishes together, this became the topic which the wife would not let him drop. As Ann delved into the topic with specific examples, the husband became more frustrated. In the course of washing dishes, she cut her thumb, not seriously, and the husband hoped the subject would be dropped. It wasn't.

I like the way blood was included so naturally into the story, especially just one drop. It reminded me of the racist idea that one drop of black blood would dirty white blood.

The story is ultimately, I think, about how people do or do not ever really know another person.

Tobias Wolff read this story and it is posted on the Huffington Post website. In this reading, Wolff deleted three or so scattered sentences and an entire paragraph toward the end.

This story was first published in The Missouri Review where it was titled "Washing Up" and subsequently in Our Story Begins.

Tobias Wolff reading "Say Yes"

16 August, 2010

Tobias Wolff, "Bible," also titled "A White Bible"

Tobias Wolff
Listened to Tobias Wolff's story, "Bible," read on Symphony Space by Jane Alexander. The version she read was published in The Atlantic magazine sometime between January 2007 and January 2008, subsequently selected for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories, 2008, edited by Salman Rushdie. Then, Wolff published "A White Bible" in his collection Our Story Begins. Curiosity caused me to go through the two publications line by line to see just how many changes there were. Wolff opens his collection with an essay about editing and the so-called original and he states "The truth is that I have never regarded my stories as sacred texts. To the extent that they are still alive to me I take a continuing interest in giving that life its best expression."

My count, inexact as it may be, is that Wolff, or maybe Fisketjon, deleted some 15 commas, changed two minor characters' names. Also, made some eleven other major punctuation changes and a couple of new contractions. However, the most interesting to me are the fourteen major word choice changes.

In "A White Bible" he added the word sayonara. The following word changes will be listed from "A White Bible" and then "Bible." domineering/manic; floorboards/floor; musky/loamy; remembered/thought; exam booklets/essays; struck/appeared; away/back; except/but; brink/point; acrid/close; startled/in surprise; intersection/exit; make sure/observe.

The point of this exercise was not to enumerate a quantity but to understand the creative process of someone as successful as Wolff. Overall, the alterations seem to contribute subconsciously to the mood of the story. For example, "brink of ruin" seems more treacherous than "point of ruin" which tells the reader just how far Maureen will let others in her life take advantage of her before she takes action. She has to be on the "brink" which is much more negative than "point."

And, in other spots, he tightened up the language. For example, in "A White Bible," "He sat there a moment, his breath quick and shallow." Compare it to the sentence from, "Bible," "He sat there a moment, breathing quick shallow breaths." And, "...Park Service sign picturing the local animals and plants." compared to "...Park Service sign picturing animals and plants to be seen hereabouts."

The story is wonderful and I'm not saying that the earlier version is any less great. I happen to find the changes fascinating and instructional.