In the Garden of the North American Martyrs

( 5 )


Tobias Wolff's masterful short-story about one woman's quiet revenge on the pomposity and arrogance of academia

Meticulous, funny, eccentric?Mary has always been mindful of the complex role she plays as a professor of history. Her lectures are carefully written out beforehand; her departmental loyalties ambiguous. She is so careful, in fact, that she began to see herself as flat, dull, and lifeless.

The closing of Brandon College, the ...

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In the Garden of the North American Martyrs

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Tobias Wolff's masterful short-story about one woman's quiet revenge on the pomposity and arrogance of academia

Meticulous, funny, eccentric—Mary has always been mindful of the complex role she plays as a professor of history. Her lectures are carefully written out beforehand; her departmental loyalties ambiguous. She is so careful, in fact, that she began to see herself as flat, dull, and lifeless.

The closing of Brandon College, the institution she'd spent more than fifteen years at, changes everything. Forced to find another position, Mary finds herself at an experimental college in rainy Oregon. Sickly and unhappy, Mary feels as if she's dying—until a letter from an old colleague holds promises of a bright future. Louise works for a prestigious school in upstate New York and wants to help her secure a position there. Excited, Mary flies across the country for an interview. But things aren't as they seem, and Mary, disenchanted with Louise's vanity and the futility of the university, for once, throws caution to the wind.

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What People Are Saying

Joyce Carol Oates
"One of the strongest short story collections to appear in recent years."
Annie Dillard
"Tobias Wolff is a captivating, brilliant writer, one of the best we've got."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781482951936
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/15/2013
  • Format: MP3
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Sales rank: 1,270,721
  • Ships to U.S.and APO/FPO addresses only.

Meet the Author

Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff is the author of several previous books and the editor of a growing list of anthologies. He has received numerous awards, among them the PEN/Malamud Award for excellence in the art of the short story. He lives in Northern California and teaches English and creative writing at Stanford University.

Anthony Heald, an Audie Award–winning narrator, has earned Tony nominations and an Obie Award for his theater work; appeared in television's Law & Order, The X-Files, Miami Vice, and Boston Public; and starred as Dr. Frederick Chilton in the 1991 Oscar-winning film The Silence of the Lambs. He lives in Ashland, Oregon, with his family.


Although Tobias Wolff has described his own youthful self as a liar and an imposter, he has achieved in his writing a level of honesty so unflinching it is almost painful to read. The author of two groundbreaking literary memoirs and several volumes of autobiographical fiction (short and long), Wolff is not just willing to lay bare his pretenses and self-deceptions; he feels an obligation to do so. Like Rumpelstilskin, he has spun experience, memory, and a remarkable gift for storytelling into literary gold.

Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, Wolff barely knew his largely absent father, a man he and his older brother Geoffrey (also a writer) have described as a con artist and a compulsive liar. While he was still young, Wolff's parents officially split up. Geoffrey went to live with his father; Tobias stayed with his mother, who moved around from state to state in a steady, westerly progression that finally landed them in Washington. Never a good judge of character where men were concerned, his mother married an abusive martinet who made her son's life miserable. Wolff recounted his misspent, miserable youth in This Boy's Life, a groundbreaking 1989 memoir that later became a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Barkin, and Robert De Niro.

Wolfe escaped his troubled home environment by falsifying an application to a private boys' school in the East and fabricating a resumé so remarkable it got him in. He flunked out before graduating, enlisted in the military, and was sent to Vietnam -- an experience he chronicled in a second memoir, In Pharaoh's Army: Memories of the Lost War, published in 1994. When he was discharged from service, he visited England, fell in love with the country, and studied, with the help of tutors, to gain entrance to Oxford. He graduated with honors in 1972 and received a scholarship to Stanford, where he received his master's degree.

A three-time winner of the O. Henry Award, Wolff is widely respected for his short stories. His first collection, In the Garden of the North American Martyrs, was published in 1981 and received rave reviews from such past masters of the genre as Annie Dillard and Joyce Carol Oates. Subsequent anthologies have only served to solidify his reputation as a preternaturally gifted storyteller. His 1984 novella The Barracks Thief won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction; and in 2003, he published his first novel, Old School, a shrewdly observed, heavily autobiographical coming-of-age tale set in an elite boys' boarding school.

Nearly as famous for his teaching as for his books, Wolff served on the faculty of Syracuse University for 17 years before accepting a position at Stanford in 1997 as a professor of English literature and creative writing. He is also a crackerjack editor and has shepherded several short story anthologies through to publication.

Good To Know

  • Leonardo DiCaprio beat out 400 hopefuls from Los Angeles, New York, Florida, and all places in between to star as Tobias Wolff in the film version of This Boy's Life.

  • Separated at a young age by their parent's divorce, Tobias and Geoffrey Wolff both grew up to become successful writers. Geoffrey's 1979 memoir of life with his con-artist father is called The Duke of Deception.

  • In an interview with The Boston Book Review, Tobias Wolfe discussed the phenomenon of selective memory this way: " Memory is something that you do; it is not something that you have. You remember, and when you remember you bring in all the resources of invention, calculation, self-interest and self-protection. Imagination is part of it too."
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      1. Also Known As:
        Tobias Jonathan Ansell Wolff (full name)
      2. Hometown:
        Northern California
      1. Date of Birth:
        June 19, 1945
      2. Place of Birth:
        Birmingham, Alabama
      1. Education:
        B.A., Oxford University, 1972; M.A., Stanford University, 1975

    Customer Reviews

    Average Rating 4.5
    ( 5 )
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    Sort by: Showing 1 – 8 of 6 Customer Reviews
    • Anonymous

      Posted June 17, 2012

      The Structure of Tobias Wolff’s In the Garden of the North

      The Structure of Tobias Wolff’s In the Garden of the North American Martyrs

      Tobias Wolff’s In the Garden of the North American Martyrs is an excellent example of formal literary structure. The story unfolds in chronological order and has a relatively simple plot development. The main character is Mary, a single white female history professor, who has repressed her true opinions and personality for years. Mary’s life is thrown into disarray when the college she teaches at suddenly closes and she is forced to find a new path in life. The story’s plot is structured using location to set the mood and add to the suspense of the plot.
      Brandon College is the first location in the story. It is a location familiar to Mary who has worked there for fifteen years. Mary uses the familiarity of Brandon to learn how to safely navigate its politics and cliques. Brandon College is where Mary learned to repress her originality and opinions because she had once seen a “brilliant and original man lose his job” (Wolff, 1981, p.1594). Mary feels safe at Brandon and happily concedes her opinions for the stability. The first complication arrives in the story when Brandon College is suddenly closed and Mary is forced to take a job in Oregon.
      The next location is set at an experimental university in Oregon. Wolff uses the rainy weather and sub-par campus setting to set a depressing and uneasy mood. Mary is miserable in Oregon and wants to find work elsewhere. While in Oregon, Mary’s former colleague from Brandon writes to her, informing her of a job opportunity at a prestigious university in upstate New York. Mary is suddenly full of hope at the prospects of working somewhere else. Mary agrees to travel to New York to interview for the position.
      When Mary arrives in New York her colleague, Louise, picks her up and drives her to a solitary cabin near the campus. They traveled to the cabin during the hours of darkness, all the while Louise is jabbering about her problems. The darkness and seclusion of the cabin create a feeling of mystery and suspense. What will occur at the job interview? Louise introduces the story’s crisis in the form of a class Mary is suppose to teach as part of the interview process. Any chance of Mary resting and preparing for her class is ruined when Louise invites herself to stay the night attempting to burden Mary with her problems. Louise proposes Mary plagiarize a class from Louise which presents an additional complication for Mary.
      The campus of the prestigious university is the setting for the climax and resolution of the story. Mary is impressed with the campus and the feeling of hope and prosperity is abundant in Mary. While on a tour of the campus power plant Mary discovers there is a new statute requiring a female to be interviewed for every job opening. During her interview Mary realizes she was never going to selected for the position. During her class, Mary begins to lecture about Iroquois and their lack of mercy and brutality. At this point in the story Mary finally realizes she wasted her life being safe and conservative. Despite the protests of the hiring committee, Mary continues to lecture, finding her own voice.
      Location was key to the structure of Wolff’s story. He used location to frame every scene in our imagination and set undertones of the main characters psyche. The use of formal structure was brilliant in developing characters and building suspense. Wolff’s story may have a simple structure but his brilliant use of the structure and themes made the story a classic example of writing.

      Wolff, T. (1981). In the Garden of the North American Martyrs, in R. Bausch & R. Cassill, The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, 1594 -1602. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

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    • Posted October 3, 2010

      more from this reviewer

      An excellent first collection

      First published in 1981, this was the debut of Tobias Wolff, who--along with writers such as Gina Berriault, Raymond Carver, and Andre Dubus--created a renaissance of the American short story in the 1970s and 80s. A number of the settings are academic, which may be off-putting to some readers, but the characters are deep and complex. All inhabit a world in which the comforts of family, friendship, and civility are constantly being eroded. In direct but elegant language, we follow these characters' struggles to maintain dignity. If you enjoy short stories, this is a must-read.

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    • Posted October 8, 2009

      more from this reviewer

      I Also Recommend:

      Good short stories...

      The best, tremendous, practically perfect, one of my favorites? Thats what everyone seem says in their reviews about Tobias Wolff''s short stories.

      "In the Garden of the North American Martyrs" is a quality collection, but alot of the writing is dry and outdated.

      Compared to other collections of short stories, Wolff's collection just doesn't match up.

      These stories were written between 1976 & 1981 and that explains alot in my opinion. Several of the stories are really dull and the topics really leave off without grabbing your attention.

      Those stories that I did enjoy:

      The Liar

      Although this book didn't wow me, I'm looking forward to reading his newer short story collection "The Night in Question"

      0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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      Posted January 26, 2010

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      Posted August 10, 2011

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      Posted March 7, 2010

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      Posted June 17, 2011

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