Among the characters you'll find in this collection of twelve stories by Tobias Wolff are a teenage boy who tells morbid lies about his home life, a timid professor who, in the first genuine outburst of her life, pours out her opinions in spite of a protesting audience, a prudish loner who gives an obnoxious hitchhiker a ride, and an elderly couple on a golden anniversary cruise who endure the offensive conviviality of the ship's social director. Fondly yet sharply drawn, Wolff's characters stumble over each other in their baffled yet resolute search for the "right path."
I had read "Hunters in the Snow" in high school, and had found it, along with a classic Wolff story not in this volume ("Bullet in the Brain") to be among the most memorable short stories I had ever read. It's still a chilling, bizarre story. Other stories take us all over North America, from Army recruits preparing for Viet Nam to prep school boys jockeying for social status, from old married couples to ossified professors. The story that took this from four to five stars though, just five minutes ago as I finished, was the last story, "The Liar". I say with no exaggeration that that story was worth the price of the entire book in humor, bizarre truth, and picayune beauty.
I liked several stories in this volume. But the title story, In the Garden of the North American Martyrs, is the one I liked the best. Mary, a history professor, loses her job when her college closes. Although she finds another job, she must move to Portland Oregon. The weather there is wet and rainy, and though she is happy to work, she is unhappy there. An old colleague contacts her about a job in upstate New York and her application results in an interview, where she discovers a deception. Her dilemma involves how to handle the attitude of the colleague and the search committee. She resolves it with panache and has the last laugh!