The Barracks Thief

by Tobias Wolff

Hardcover, 1984




London : Cape, 1987, c1984.


The Barracks Thief is the story of three young paratroopers waiting to be shipped out to Vietnam. Brought together one sweltering afternoon to stand guard over an ammunition dump threatened by a forest fire, they discover in each other an unexpected capacity for recklessness and violence. Far from being alarmed by this discovery, they are exhilarated by it; they emerge from their common danger full of confidence in their own manhood and in the bond of friendship they have formed. This confidence is shaken when a series of thefts occur. The author embraces the perspectives of both the betrayer and the betrayed, forcing us to participate in lives that we might otherwise condemn, and to recognize the kinship of those lives to our own.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Polaris-
My first Tobias Wolff book - and it is a very good book. Only 100-odd pages it is certainly a quick read, but that in no way diminishes the impact or the power of its story. Wolff gives you just enough subtlety for your brain to get into top gear as you fill out the picture of the three main
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characters' lives. The story is very simple - of mid-1960s recruits at the end of training and waiting in the limbo that surrounds them before posting to Vietnam.

The three bond after their shared guard duty of a remote ammo dump and their cavalier behaviour there. As the characters' lives are filled out the plot develops with some mysterious thefts.

The attention to detail in this slim volume is remarkable, and I wanted to know more about where these boys were going and what happens to them in the future. The atmospheric descriptions really put you there - right into their lives. I almost gave it the full 5 stars, only I really felt like I was left wanting more! Maybe that is the best way? I will definitely be on the lookout for more of Wolff's writing.
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LibraryThing member trandism
This book is the one that brought Wolff the Pen/Faulkner award and I dare say that this is a typical case of the "wrong-book-got-the-award" scenario. I'm not saying the book is bad (actually it's a good two-hour casual read) but it's obvious to me that it doesn't reach the standards of "Old School"
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and most importantly the memoir "This Boy's Life" (one of the best books I've read so far this year and one to remember for a long time).

What we have here is a short novel (120 pages) with typical Wolff characters - dry, cynical and on the loser side of things - that have volunteered to the US Army at the beginning of the Vietnam War. The three of them are the noobs of one of the barracks' company and they suffer both from the harsh conditions of the military life and also from the contempt of the older soldiers. Their weaker status brings them together. At the same time a series of small crimes start happening in the barracks. Wallets stolen, someone gets punched in the face while getting a shower, everybody's suspicious. Who is responsible? Is he an outsider? Is he "one of us"?
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LibraryThing member TimBazzett
I've been a fan of Tobias Wolff for years now, so was pleased to find this hardback first edition of Wolff's second book, THE BARRACKS THIEF, at a recent library sale. It's a quick read, not even a hundred pages, and I read the whole thing in just a couple hours while enjoying my morning coffee.
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The story is a simply told one - of a young man from a broken home who joins the army, goes to jump school at Ft Bragg, then awaits his orders to Vietnam. While waiting, an uneasy friendship develops between three 'outsiders,' and goes to pieces from there. There are pre-echoes in this 1984 novella of works to come from Wolff - his now-classic memoirs THIS BOY'S LIFE and IN PHARAOH'S ARMY, both books I have read and enjoyed tremendously.

Thirty years later, this book still works, particularly for anyone who has served in the military. Even in 1984 Wolff was already in full possession of the formidable storytelling skills which would make him famous. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member ProfH
Flawless novella that quickly yet throughly develops three interesting characters and presents a very believable situation. There's a lot of think about and discuss concerning the motivation and psychology of each, but they are complex enough not to simply be categorized. Fans of Wolff like me only
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regret that the writer didn't expand further on this subject. On the plus side, this makes for an excellent read for courses in literature or would be good for a book club that needs a quick read.
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PEN/Faulkner Award (Finalist — 1985)


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