In the Garden of the North American Martyrs: A collection of short stories

by Tobias Wolff

Paper Book, 1981





New York, N.Y. : Ecco Press, 1981.


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."

Media reviews

In this, his first book, Tobias Wolff avoids the emotional and stylistic monotone that constricts so many collections of contemporary short stories. His range, sometimes within the same story, extends from fastidious realism to the grotesque and the lyrical. In these 12 stories, Wolff's characters include a teen-age boy who becomes a compulsive liar on the day his father dies, an elderly couple who try to maintain their dignity despite the travesties of a golden anniversary love cruise, and an obese man whose surreptitious eating makes him feel as duplicitous as a spy. He allows these characters scenes of flamboyant madness as well as quiet desperation, moments of slap-happiness as well as muted contentment.

User reviews

LibraryThing member eilonwy_anne
This is a great collection of short stories. They vary in length, topic and tone, but all of them have an almost pungent insight into a character's experience of life. They are extremely relatable, and genuinely interesting.

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.… (more)
LibraryThing member b.masonjudy
Tobias Wolff's first collection is an excellent and diverse mix of stories that all hit their mark in different ways. Whether it's an old couple who's love has been lost/never rendered in "Maiden Voyage" or a man navigating his sense of judgement in "An Episode in the Life of Professor Brooke" Wolff approaches his characters with grace, humor, and honesty. What's really pleasing is the sense of completeness with each of these stories and the moment of turning, where you are wracked with the craftsmanship of a truly wonderful storyteller, in each and every piece.… (more)
LibraryThing member steller0707
As with any collection of stories, some appealed more than others. However, all the characters are vividly drawn and are each put in situations in which there is a moral dilemma, some with more serious consequences than others. How they will meet these dilemmas becomes the question.

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!… (more)


Local notes

inscribed by the author


Page: 0.2682 seconds