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Old School


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By the author of This Boy's Life, Old School has been longlisted for the 2005 IMPAC literary prize Huge press coverage and acclaim for the hardback which has sold over 12,000 copies To be backed with press advertising and promotions

About the Author

The author of three collections of stories, Tobias Wolff lives with his family near Stanford University, where he is the director of the creative writing programme.


A scholarship boy at a New England prep school grapples with literary ambition and insecurity in this lucid, deceptively sedate novel, set in the early 1960s and narrated by the unnamed protagonist from the vantage point of adulthood. Each year, the school hosts a number of visiting writers, and the boys in the top form are allowed to compete for a private audience by composing a poem or story. The narrator judges the skills of his competitors, avidly exposing his classmates' weaknesses and calculating their potential ("I knew better than to write George off.... He could win.... Bill was a contender"). His own chances are hurt by his inability to be honest with himself and examine his ambivalent feelings about his Jewish roots. After failing to win audiences with Robert Frost and Ayn Rand, he is determined to be chosen by the last and best guest, legendary Ernest Hemingway. The anxiety of influence afflicts all the boys, but in crafting his final literary offering, the narrator discovers inspiration in imitation, finding his voice in someone else's. The novel's candid, retrospective narration ruefully depicts its protagonist's retreat further and further behind his public facade ("I'd been absorbed so far into my performance that nothing else came naturally"). Beneath its staid trappings, this is a sharply ironic novel, in which love of literature is counterbalanced by bitter disappointment (as one character bluntly puts it, "[Writing] just cuts you off and makes you selfish and doesn't really do any good"). Wolff, an acclaimed short story writer (The Night in Question, etc.) and author of the memoir This Boy's Life, here offers a delicate, pointed meditation on the treacherous charms of art. (Nov. 9) Forecast: This is Wolff's first full-length novel (and his first book in seven years) and as such will likely receive much critical attention. Fans of the author's short stories-regularly published in the New Yorker-should be pleased by his departure from form. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

'Think Dead Poets' Society crossed with The Catcher in the Rye ... a beautifully crafted all-American coming-of-age tale' Esquire 'This is the kind of novel that endures - wise, clever and written with immense heart' Observer 'Exceptionally good ... comparable to the work of Philip Roth. This reviewer was tempted to send Wolff a fan letter' Blake Morrison, Sunday Telegraph 'A wonderful, subtle novel' Geoff Dyer, Books of the Year, Daily Telegraph

This first novel by Wolff (The Night in Question) falls into that odd subgenre: the prep-school coming-of-age story. On the surface, it is a plainly wrapped story of an anonymous narrator at an anonymous school in the 1950s who feels a writer's vocation but comes to an ethical crossroads. The school has regular writing competitions whose winners get to meet one of the great authors of the day, including Robert Frost and Ayn Rand (in a hilarious send up of objectivism). The lucky winner of the final contest will meet Ernest Hemingway, and so desperate is the narrator to triumph that he unwittingly falls into the dark waters of plagiarism. This story would be predictable if it did not shift so radically toward the conclusion. Ultimately, Wolff asks readers two probing questions: what is the nature of the narratives with which people represent themselves daily, and how do they run the danger of being undone by those stories if they are not careful? A big novel hidden in the structure of a small one, this work is highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/03.]-David Hellman, San Francisco State Univ. Lib. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Adult/High School-The unnamed narrator of this coming-of-age story set in 1960 is a scholarship student at a prestigious New England prep school that has a tradition of inviting literary stars to the campus. Prior to the visit, the seniors are requested to write a piece to be "judged" by the guest. The winner is given a private meeting with the literary luminary and the story is published in the school paper. The narrator, having missed out on an audience with Robert Frost and Ayn Rand, is determined to meet with Ernest Hemingway. Much of this quiet novel is about writing and love of the written word. Merits of The Fountainhead or "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" are discussed by their authors and the students, and readers glean some information on the writing process and the cult of personality. In his fervent desire to be chosen, the narrator "borrows" an idea and reveals a secret about his heritage that he has carefully hidden. He wins, but the results of his story's publication are disastrous and his life is forever changed. The events and ideas in this thoughtful and thought-provoking novel remain with readers after the story is over and could provide meat for discussion. Teens will identify with the protagonist and internalize ideas on creativity as well as honesty and the importance of seemingly small decisions or occurrences in life.-Susan H. Woodcock, Fairfax County Public Library, Chantilly, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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