Biography & Autobiography. Nonfiction. HTML: First published in 1989, this memoir has become a classic in the genre. With this book, Wolff essentially launched the memoir craze that has been going strong ever since. It was made into a movie in 1993. Fiction writer Tobias Wolff electrified critics with his scarifying 1989 memoir, which many deemed as notable for its artful structure and finely wrought prose as for the events it describes. The story is pretty grim: Teenaged Wolff moves with his divorced mother from Florida to Utah to Washington State to escape her violent boyfriend. When she remarries, Wolff finds himself in a bitter battle of wills with his abusive stepfather, a contest in which the two prove to be more evenly matched than might have been supposed. Deception, disguise, and illusion are the weapons the young man learns to employ as he grows upâ??not bad training for a writer-to-be. Somber though this tale of family strife is, it is also darkly funny and so artistically satisfying that listeners come away exhilarated.
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.
In a way, though, the author's forthrightness makes "This Boy's Life" a less interesting book than it could have been. Wolff's easy duplicity meant that he lived a sort of double life for much of his adolescence, and his parents' background make for an unusual perspective on downward class mobility and snobbery in general. These themes are really best dealt with in novels, and so it's possible that I should just move on to this author's fiction. "This Boy's Life" is a fine example of the "midlife memoir" genre, but perhaps this one would have worked better as an autobiographical novel. Recommended, in any case, to fans of this genre.
This book won the Los Angeles Times Book Award in 1989; was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award that year; and received The Ambassador Book Award for Biography/ Autobiography in 1990. It is by way of being a classic of the memoir sub-genre of "Dysfunctional family/abusive childhood" stories.
Review written in January 2017
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.
Woff invites us into
This Boyâ€™s Life is an easy and entertaining read that is best suited to tenth graders. Teens, especially boys, will easily relate to Jackâ€™s predicaments. The natural tone and frankness of the memoir provides an inspiring example for students writing autobiographical essays.
I was really disappointed by the ending, which is why I rated this so low. I kept expecting
*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
I found it difficult to relate to any of the people in this storyâ€”even Jack. I kept wishing that his mom would get a clue or get a backbone or show some spine or something. I couldnâ€™t understand why she kept subjecting herself and her child to the situations described. Iâ€™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 Jackâ€™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 motherâ€™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 Boyâ€™s Life.
The telling of the storyâ€”the writing itselfâ€”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 donâ€™t feel like the author was trying to be deceptive in any way, so the voice doesnâ€™t bother me. I really think itâ€™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 isnâ€™t in my memory. Whether this came directly from the writerâ€™s memory or was somewhat improvised doesnâ€™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 isnâ€™t even given an opportunity to be excited for young Toby. Iâ€™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 readerâ€™s hopes? In some ways, it leaves me feeling that further reading is futile. I donâ€™t need to learn the details. I know it isnâ€™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) â€¦ 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 other accepted candidates possessed. I feared the worst and decided to avoid facing those possibilities. I still feel a kind of regret when my mind wonders back to those decisions.
Overall, this is a well crafted story. The details and consistency are masterful. I just didnâ€™t really enjoy it that much.
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.
Toby has a dynamic life--one that moves him about, allowing him to live without rules and choosing his own standards. Tobyâ€™s father and brother went one way and Toby and his mother went another when they
Much of the memoir takes place in Seattle where Tobyâ€™s mother gets a better job and rooms with other women. Itâ€™s determined that she should marry one of the men sheâ€™s met. How he acts with her and how he acts with Toby are completely different. He has children as well, so Toby finds it interesting to live with siblings again. They already know what to expect from their father and do little to help Toby when he comes to live at the house, which is in the middle of nowhere. His mother moves there later because Toby says all is fine instead of telling the truth.
I think this is a great memoir for teen boys or anyone who likes to push boundaries. Toby lies, manipulates, and breaks the law, which I cannot relate to. Furthermore, I canâ€™t read his choices and justify his behavior because I have always been a pleaser and rule follower. I couldnâ€™t decide how much his mother really knew him--did she just overlook his behavior thinking he would make better choices later? Did she not know what to do because she continually chose bad men? I donâ€™t know. I should mention that the language is mature.