Faye Rapoport DesPres

On Reading “This Boy’s Life” by Tobias Wolff

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I’m currently listening to an audiobook of This Boy’s Life, the well-known memoir by Tobias Wolff. I enjoy listening to audiobooks, and this one has kept me company during morning runs and short car rides. But I have wished, more than once, that I could see the words that I am hearing in this book — that I could read the sentences over and over and really appreciate the incredible craft of this writer. Show vs. tell? Move seamlessly from scene to reflection? Use interesting verbs? Find a creative, new way to say something ordinary? Set the scene? Find the universal in the individual experience? It all seems effortless in this book. It all seems, even, beside the point. Amazing.

Here’s a delectable taste (found online — I had to find these paragraphs!):

“We sat gazing out across the water. The river was swollen with runoff. More brown than green, it chuckled and hissed along the bank. Farther from shore it seethed among mossy boulders and the snarled roots of trees caught between them. From under the changing surface sounds of the river came a deep steady sigh that never changed, and grew louder as you listened to it until it was the only sound you heard. Birds skimmed the water. New leaves glinted on the aspens along the bank.

It was spring. We were both caught in it for a moment, forgetful of our separate designs. We were with each other the way kindred animals are with each other. Then we stirred, and remembered ourselves. Father Karl delivered some final admonition, and I said I would do better, and we walked back to the store.”

Sigh. I write like that in my dreams.

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