This Boy's Life: A Memoir

This Boy's Life: A Memoir

by Tobias Wolff

Paperback(1 GROVE PR)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802136688
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 01/28/2000
Edition description: 1 GROVE PR
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 62,870
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Tobias Wolff is the author of several story collections and two memoirs, including In Pharaoh’s Army, a finalist for the National Book Award, and the novel The Barracks Thief, which won the 1985 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

Hometown:

Northern California

Date of Birth:

June 19, 1945

Place of Birth:

Birmingham, Alabama

Education:

B.A., Oxford University, 1972; M.A., Stanford University, 1975

Read an Excerpt

Fortune

Our car boiled over again just after my mother and I crossed the Continental Divide. While we were waiting for it to cool we heard, from somewhere above us, the bawling of an airhorn. The sound got louder and then a big truck came around the comer and shot past us into the next curve, its trailer shimmying wildly. We stared after it. "Oh, Toby," my mother said, "he's lost his brakes."

The sound of the hom grew distant, then faded in the wind that sighed in the trees all around us.

By the time we got there, quite a few people were standing along the cliff where the truck went over. It had smashed through the guardrails and fallen hundreds of feet through empty space to the river below, where it lay on its back among the boulders. It looked pitifully small. A stream of thick black smoke rose from the cab, feathering out in the wind. My mother asked whether anyone had gone to report the accident. Someone had. We stood with the others at the cliff's edge. Nobody spoke. My mother put her arm around my shoulder.

For the rest of the day she kept looking over at me, touching me, brushing back my hair. I saw that the time was right to make a play for souvenirs. I knew she bad no money for them, and I had tried not to ask, but now that her guard was down I couldn't help myself. When we pulled out of Grand junction I owned a beaded Indian belt, beaded moccasins, and a bronze horse with a removable, tooled-leather saddle.


It was 1955 and we were driving from Florida to Utah, to get away from a man my mother was afraid of and to get rich on uranium. We were going to change our luck.

We'd left Sarasota in the dead ofsummer, right after my tenth birthday, and beaded West under low flickering skies that turned black and exploded and cleared just long enough to leave the air gauzy with steam. We drove through Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, stopping to cool the engine in towns where people moved with arthritic slowness and spoke in thick, strangled tongues. Idlers with rotten teeth surrounded the car to press peanuts on the pretty Yankee lady and her little boy, arguing among themselves about shortcuts. Women looked up from their flower beds as we drove past, or watched us from their porches, sometimes impassively, sometimes giving us a nod and a flutter of their fans.

Every couple of hours the Nash Rambler boiled over. My mother kept digging into her little grubstake but no mechanic could fix it. All we could do was wait for it to cool, then drive on until it boiled over again. (My mother came to bate this machine so much that not long after we got to Utah she gave it away to a woman she met in a cafeteria.) At night we slept in boggy rooms where headlight beams crawled up and down the walls and mosquitoes sang in our ears, incessant as the tires whining on the highway outside. But none of this bothered me. I was caught up in my mother's freedom, her delight in her freedom, her dream of transformation.

Everything was going to change when we got out West. My mother had been a girl in Beverly Hills, and the life we saw ahead of us was conjured from her memories of California in the days before the Crash. Her father, Daddy as she called him, had been a navy officer and a paper millionaire. They'd lived in a big house with a turret. Just before Daddy lost all his money and all his shanty-Irish relatives' money and got himself transferred overseas, my mother was one of four girls chosen to ride on the Beverly Hills float in the Tournament of Roses. The float's theme was "The End of the Rainbow" and it won that year's prize by acclamation. She met Jackie Coogan. She had her picture taken with Harold Lloyd and Marion Davies, whose movie The Sailor Man was filmed on Daddy's ship. When Daddy was at sea she and her mother lived a dream life in which, for days at a time, they played the part of sisters.

And the cars my mother told me about as we waited for the Rambler to cool--I should have seen the cars! Daddy drove a Franklin touring car. She'd been courted by a boy who bad his own Chrysler convertible with a musical horn. And of course there was the Hernandez family, neighbors who'd moved up from Mexico after finding oil under their cactus ranch. The family was large. When they were expected to appear somewhere together they drove singly in a caravan of identical Pierce-Arrows.

Something like that was supposed to happen to us. People in Utah were getting up poor in the morning and going to bed rich at night. You didn't need to be a mining engineer or a mineralogist. All you needed was a Geiger counter. We were on our way to the uranium fields, where my mother would get a job and keep her eyes open. Once she learned the ropes she'd start prospecting for a claim of her own.

And when she found it she planned to do some serious compensating: for the years of hard work, first as a soda jerk and then as a novice secretary, that had gotten her no farther than flat broke and sometimes not that far. For the breakup of our family five years earlier. For the misery of her long affair with a violent man. She was going to make up for lost time, and I was going to help her.

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This Boy's Life 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 63 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Living in a dysfunctional family in the 1950s and 1960s isn¿t easy. Tobias Wolff¿s novel This Boy¿s Life is a moving tale of the frustrations of young Toby, constantly on the move with his mother, Rosemary, to avoid his violent father. They travel from Florida to Utah to Washington in hope of a better life; but what they really find is that they are no better off when they were back in Florida. Throughout the novel, Toby struggles in finding his own identity and pretends to be what other people want him to be. Because of this, Toby starts to steal and lie to find friends and fit in. He tries to make his mother happy by being the person she wants him to be. In doing so, he loses sight of his own identity. But his mother sees his problem as a lack of a fatherly figure and tries to appease him by marring a man named Dwight, who turns out to be an abusive drunk and a liar. Toby¿s strategies to avoid Dwight¿running away to Alaska, forging checks, stealing cars¿lead Toby to believe in the possibilities of escaping to a new world. This Boy¿s Life is truly a novel that will catch anyone¿s attention. Although the book can be read fairly easy, many people can relate to the struggles of adversity, which makes this novel so powerful. Wolff does a remarkable job of creating the frustrations and the cruelties of adolescence. The humor combined with the seriousness makes the reader have a new outlook on life, and how fortunate some of us are to have it. Overall, this book rates five stars and should be a part of everyone¿s book list.
laurenryates on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Toby Wolff was a troubled young man from an early age when his parents divorced. His father took his older brother and his mother took Toby, splitting the family up and only corresponding infrequently by letters between the two young boys. His mother moved them around frequently and eventually settled down with an abusive man, Dwight, whom she married quickly. Toby reinvents himself and insists that everyone call him "Jack". "Jack" started getting into trouble in school and around the house partly from having to live in such a hostile environment. He tries to run away, and eventually finds himself accepted into an elite school, where he meets his mentor, Mr. Howard. After a fight with his stepfather, his mother arranges for "Jack" to move in with his friend where he causes trouble, yet again. He then moves in with his brother and father, but flunks out of school and ends up joining the army and serving in the Vietnam war. This was a very emotionally charged novel with a character that just seemed to take the wrong paths throughout his whole life. I really enjoyed reading about Toby, and how he created different identities and imagined different worlds to help himself cope with his troubled life. I think this is a good read for a young adult, especially a young boy.
kpickett on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Young Toby Wolff loves traveling with his mother from town to town as she dates, and escapes the worst kind of men. The two hav adventures from Florida to Arizona to Washington when they end up in Chinook, WA living with a man named Dwight and his three children. But Dwight is not exactly a very good father figure as he takes Toby's (now calling himself Jack) profits from his newspaper delivery job and abuses him mentally and physically. I can't quite figure out why this book is so popular. The story wasn't very enticing for me, nor did I really care what happened to the most of the characters. I am not sure how much of these stories are true and how much are fictionalized but I found myself just wanting the whole thing to be over. I didn't like Old School when I first read it but in comparison to this I would much rather read that than This Boy's Life.
dee_kohler on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Wasn't too crazy about it when I read it long ago but it was good to measure Prep and the Tender Bar to it
nohablo on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Good and zippy, with a great soft twang of nostalgia and hooliganism. Buuuut, also, not magic! For all its quiet strengths, THIS BOY'S LIFE doesn't have that glow of something great. It's not resounding, not heart-rending. Mad decent, but nothing fervid, nothing that haunts.
miriamparker on LibraryThing 5 months ago
If there was a memoir that all other memoirs would have to live up to, it would be this one.
cannedhiss on LibraryThing 5 months ago
*Contains Spoilers (but not many)**Personal (as opposed to scholarly) Review*This memoir was fairly depressing. It was difficult for me to get through, because I felt like I was going to continually be disappointed by the people in the story. There was always a sense of hopelessness and dread looming in my mind, preventing me from wanting to pick it up again, afraid of what was going to happen next. In this way, I felt a kind of empathy for young Toby (or Jack as he preferred to be called as a boy). I found it difficult to relate to any of the people in this story¿even Jack. I kept wishing that his mom would get a clue or get a backbone or show some spine or something. I couldn¿t understand why she kept subjecting herself and her child to the situations described. I¿m sure that my lack of relatability is based upon my own life experiences. My mother was also a single parent. My father was even more worthless than Jack¿s biological father. I faced many struggles and painful experiences due to the fact that my mother had to play two roles while I was growing up. Because this is fairly impossible for one human to do, one of the roles suffered. My mother was never able to be a mother, because she was forced to be the breadwinner and provider. Time and maturity have allowed me to see my childhood and adolescence much more objectively than when I was living them. It also provides me an enormous respect and sincere amazement for my mother¿s accomplishments and success for being a single parent. I am easily reminded of her unique personality and character when reading a story such as This Boy¿s Life.The telling of the story¿the writing itself¿was mostly entertaining and quite clear. I was frequently reminded that the storyteller was much older during his telling of the story. This could simply be my own bias interpreting something incorrectly. The voice often felt too mature for the young adolescent I was learning about. By contrast, the details of this story, which were consistent, kept me there in the moment, when and where everything was happening. Perhaps Toby really was that smart when he was that young. I don¿t feel like the author was trying to be deceptive in any way, so the voice doesn¿t bother me. I really think it¿s just a matter of style or aesthetic. Some details were extraordinary, especially the dialogue. There is absolutely no way I could recall dialogue from my youth the way Mr. Wolff has done. I have tried. It just isn¿t in my memory. Whether this came directly from the writer¿s memory or was somewhat improvised doesn¿t make any difference to me. The intention feels honest and sincere. To me, there is no question of integrity. Plus, the way the dialogue is written into the story feels natural. It fits. There is no jolting away from the story. The desolate tone of this memoir is nearly constant. Even when something amazing happens, like the chance for Jack to leave that awful town and get away from that terrible Dwight, the potential change and escape contain some fatal flaw that wrecks the whole deal. The way in which Wolff writes about his acceptance to Hill is tainted immediately. The reader isn¿t even given an opportunity to be excited for young Toby. I¿m not sure how I feel about the bleak foreshadowing Wolff occasionally offers. Perhaps he is trying to maintain a more consistent perspective or maybe it is an attempt to avoid dashing the reader¿s hopes? In some ways, it leaves me feeling that further reading is futile. I don¿t need to learn the details. I know it isn¿t going to work out. Nothing has worked out for young Toby, aka Jack. I do admire his (and here I pause, not really sure what to call it, not really certain of the most appropriate label) ¿ courage (?). I had a few great opportunities when I was young and chickened out of all of them. I felt like I would never fit into the environments these new situations would create. I knew that I did not have the same kind of background and financial backing that
SeriousGrace on LibraryThing 5 months ago
em>This Boy's Life was spellbinding. Tobias Wolff's personal memoir is not tremendous. It may even sound familiar to anyone who comes from a broken home, had troubles with a step-parent, or had a mischievous streak. What makes This Boy's Life such a page turner is the honesty that radiates from every page, every sentence. It is not an overwhelming tragic tale, but it is painful and real. Wolff does not paint a picture of a hero, nor victim. It's just an account of a troubled childhood. The writing is so clear, so unmuddied, that we can easily see bits of our own childhoods reflected in every chapter.
lahochstetler on LibraryThing 5 months ago
As a boy Tobias Wolff and his mother moved west to seek their fortune and to escape an abusive man. They landed first in Utah, later in Seattle. In just a matter of months Wolff's mother has met and married another abusive man and moved Tobias deep into the Cascade Mountains where Dwight, his new stepfather, lives in a company town. In this remote environment Dwight is free to abuse Jack, as Wolff is known in his youth. And abuse is a constant in Wolff's young life. His stepfather has free reign, and Wolff's mother does little to reign in her husband's tirades. The wild and dangerous setting of the mountains serves as a fitting background for Wolff's youth. His life in many ways mimics the scenery. It is lawless, it is amazing, and it has little connection to the outside world. Wolff's life is a test of wills, an assertion of wit and strength. His writing is lyrical and engaging. I was taken with his story from beginning to end.
ursula on LibraryThing 5 months ago
One of the things I liked best about this memoir was its immediacy. Wolff's plain-spoken style kept me in the moment with his teenage self. His mother makes a series of bad decisions, one of which is moving to the middle of nowhere and marrying Dwight, a small-minded man with a tendency toward violence. Dwight's mistreatment and his mother's distance (she hardly figures in the story, although she was living in the same house) could have easily been used as excuses or explanations for Wolff's progressively more outrageous behavior, but he seems to look at himself with mostly clear eyes. Frequently divorced from his own feelings and lacking almost any ability to empathize, the teenager often comes across as unlikable. But the older Wolff peeks through enough to let you know that somehow, he turned out all right in the end.
HankIII on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would. The prose was smooth; I just didn't particular find the characters pleasant enough to empathize with.
bnbookgirl on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Quite a good read. The events of Wolff's life really come to life on the pages. The 1950's always seemed such an innocent time, but this book brings to light issues one does not normally equate with it. Toby's tale is dark at times but there are many humorous parts interspersed. Wolff suffered many frustrations and cruelties while he was growing up and this memoir tells his woes with such vividness and clarity. People who suffered those same woes will relate, and those that didn't will still find this memoir interesting.
brenzi on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I think I was still suffering from the aftermath of reading a spectacular book ([Matterhorn]) until I was about three quarters of the way through this one because I just could not connect with the characters or the lives depicted by Wolff. This is his memoir and he recounts his life from 1955 when he's a sixth grader through high school. It's reminiscent of many other memoirs I've read including [The Glass Castle], [The Tender Bar] and [The Liar's Club] but it lacks the humor that those authors brought to their narratives which made the despairing parts easier to take. It does seem to follow the same formulaic pattern, namely dysfunctional parents, one of which has totally left the scene, a mother who goes from one loser mate to another until you find yourself wringing your hands at the futility of the situation, emotional abuse of the children, and a flighty pattern that finds the protagonist flip-flopping from one place to another across the country. The other thing that this memoir lacks is a likable protagonist. He steals, forges his way through the application process for prep school, lies pretty much all the time and just did not endear himself to me as many other memoir victims have.Fortunately, about three-quarters of the way through the book I finally found my interest being held. Wolff's writing started to resemble the crisp, delicious prose I fell in love with in his novel [Old School]. I didn't like him much more than I had, but I appreciated the writing.
CynthiaBelgum on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Follows the life of Tobias Wolff from about age 8 to about age 18, showing his travels with his mother from east to west coast, ever falling into worse circumstances. The book is well enough written but chronicles the soul of an empty person. When Wolff was speaking of his adult life, he was much more human and multidimensional. Perhaps he doesn't really remember who he was or how he felt. As the boy he describes, he is everything that is anathema in the male (and certainly not representative of anything to which to aspire). Increasing entropy.
Borg-mx5 on LibraryThing 6 months ago
A wonderful memoir. Wolff's life is a tale of many lost young boys, who take an eternity to find their place in life. We grow up seeking, and too often find ourselves in the wrong places. Wolff finds a way out of his small town and disfunctional home. It does not mean he is out of the woods, only that he can see the light. A great read.
suesbooks on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This book was interesting, and I was glad to read it and see the similarities between this and Wolff's fictional Old School. However, I liked the writing of Old School and The Night in Question much better.
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MullyJS More than 1 year ago
This book should really be read with his brother Tobias' book 'This Boy's Life' as a companion. Taken together they become all that more powerful and we see the true power of family and brotherhood. Both are amazing writers and both cause you to loose your place in your own world as you are drawn into theirs. If I could I would recommend these two books for college courses as well as high school.
A_Sloan More than 1 year ago
My favorite memoir of all time. Poignant and funny. Great stories that touch on your heart. I've read it three times.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A childhood filled with hardships that turned out for the better. Wolff completely amazed critics and readers of this intimate memoir that tells the stories of his early struggles in life. A life that wasn’t as happy or easy as it should be during juvenile times. The separation of his mother and father will be hard for him to reminisce on, but that did lead him into the person he is today. Mr. Wolff depicts relatable family issues that allow the audience to feel as if they could or have possibly gone through the same difficulties. The novel is a strong dose of reality that can hit hard to some people who own a past that they also can’t seem to forget. Yet Tobias and those people both know that everything happens for a reason since life always gets better. Life is supposed to be a challenge that tests a person’s capability to face them, but it will never win someone over unless they let themselves vulnerable to failure. A piece that will remind the reader to count their blessings and never let their hopes down, trudge forward to a brighter future. That’s what his mindset was throughout the entire book. Optimism kept his faith in a destination that will be joyful for his mother and himself, a place that will take years to get to (one dislike: the story was kind of long since it described unnecessary details of each year). But in the meantime, his chin was high and that was a moral that every reader should take from reading this memoir. Not only does has Wolff written an inspiring piece of his personal memories, but he has also published two other memoirs; In Pharaoh’s Army, a frontrunner for the National Book Award and The Barracks. Theif, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction (pictured below).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is amazingly fun to read. I could not put it down.