Written by: Tobias Wolff
Read by: Dan Cashman
6 Hours and 30 Minutes
PRHA Imprint: Random House Audio
Genre: Fiction – Literary
Release Date: January 29, 2019
I voluntarily reviewed an advance readers copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
The author of the genre-defining memoir This Boy’s Life, the PEN/Faulkner Award–winning novella The Barracks Thief, and short stories acclaimed as modern classics, Tobias Wolff now gives us his first novel.
Determined to fit in at his New England prep school, the narrator has learned to mimic the bearing and manners of his adoptive tribe while concealing as much as possible about himself. His final year, however, unravels everything he’s achieved, and steers his destiny in directions no one could have predicted.
The school’s mystique is rooted in Literature, and for many boys this becomes an obsession, editing the review and competing for the attention of visiting writers whose fame helps to perpetuate the tradition. Robert Frost, soon to appear at JFK’s inauguration, is far less controversial than the next visitor, Ayn Rand. But the final guest is one whose blessing a young writer would do almost anything to gain.
No one writes more astutely than Wolff about the process by which character is formed, and here he illuminates the irresistible power, even the violence, of the self-creative urge. Resonant in ways at once contemporary and timeless, Old School is a masterful achievement by one of the finest writers of our time. https://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/book/193233/old-school/
A big part of the experience of listening to this book; the quality of the story, was in the narrators smooth. lazy voice as the character gets nostalgic for his “Old School.” We never learn his name which I feel is a common device for the literature of the period in which the story is placed.
This also an excellent piece of literary fiction in the mood of Twentieth Century literary fiction. It’s feels like Dead Poets’ Society or other schoolboy books where young men amble about a lovely campus, have mustachioed professors in black robes teaching the kids concepts of literature I didn’t even find in college. Seriously, these kids are so much smarter than I am. You can smell the air at the school, taste the cigarettes the narrator smokes, the feeling of not winning, the first sophomoric reading of Ayn Rand (I had one but I was a 17 year old in college).
The book is predictable — remember that bit about Ayn Rand — hero worship met with crumbling icons. And, of course there’s the “trying to belong” aspect of the book mentioned in the publisher summary. It’s if stark relief here, but isn’t that what being a teenager is all about? At a swanky school or a public high school, we are all trying to fit in. The theme of belonging is just the background for the other themes.
In a sense, it’s about how one mistake, a nearly unconscious decision, can not so much ruin your life but make it a way you could never dream, but it just might get you where you actually want to be by getting you what you need to get there. It’s a short read from a great writer.
AUTHOR’S Faculty Page at Stanford: https://english.stanford.edu/people/tobias-wolff