Oct 27, 2014

Old School

by Tobias Wolff

I think this book is semi-autobiographical. It is the story of a young man in his years at prep school, a school that focuses on literary achievement. Quite bookish. Every year the school invites several famed authors to visit, and encourages the students' writing efforts with a competition. They submit a piece of writing, and the visiting author chooses one. The prized reward is a one-on-one chat between famed author and student writer. The boys compete fiercely for this honor, and talk about it all year. During the course of the novel, Robert Frost and Ayn Rand both visit the school. The final author in the lineup is Ernest Hemmingway, but he doesn't show. Through it all, the narrator, our unnamed boy, is searching for himself. Searching for himself as a writer, searching for his identity as a person, as a friend. There are subtle duplicities going on- he doesn't quite admit to his friends who his family really is, wanting to obscure parts of his identity in order to fit in, and it bothers him the entire year. When finally a chance comes and he realizes how he can show the truth of who he is, it involves another kind of fakery, which gets him expelled. And who will he be now? What does it mean to be a writer, what does it mean to tell the truth? to live it?

This is one of those books I think I need to read again, to see it more clearly. I was glad that I have read a number of poems by Robert Frost, one or two books by Hemmingway (including For Whom the Bell Tolls) and Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, so at least I had an inkling of what was going on when those authors visited and spoke. But I know some of it still went over my head.

Rating: 3/5     195 pages, 2003

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bermudaonion said...

I'm sure most of that would go over my head.

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Hahaha, I didn't worry too much about what was going over my head -- I've never read a word by Ayn Rand, so a lot of that was wasted on me. I mainly just enjoyed the writing a lot!