This Boy’s Life: A Memoir
Tobias Wolff (Adult Memoir)
It was 1955 and we were driving from Florida to Utah, to get away from a man my mother was afraid of and to get rich on uranium. We were going to change our luck.
Ten-year-old Toby “Jack” Wolff dreams of escape and freedom. He dreams of transformation. Traveling with his mother from Florida to Utah in their Nash Rambler, their prospects finally seem bright and expansive. The future was theirs for the taking…that is if their luck changed which, in Toby’s case, seems highly unlikely.
Tobias Wolff’s memoir is not one of those redemptive stories where everyone links arms and watches the sunset over the mountain or one where friends and family cheer as our young hero makes his way across the stage, grabs his diploma, and raises it high into the air signaling triumph. This is another kind of story where the reader bangs their head against the wall as our young protagonist continues to make one horribly bad decision after another. Where the hero doesn’t learn from his mistakes and continually seems to disappoint everyone around him except himself. This horribly flawed and painfully real boy is the reason why I fell in love with this book.
Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said that the true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one’s watching. A lot of what Wolff includes in his memoir could certainly have been softened or even omitted in order to allow the reader to have just a small bit of sympathy for him and his circumstances. Instead, he goes full bore and gives us all the ugly, raw, and sordid details of his early years. He deprives us of feeling any sense of pity although we understand that he is but a product of a mother who continues to be drawn to poisonous men and friends that are a whisper away from juvenile detention.
Throughout this book, Wolff explains that he craved distinction, that he only wanted what he couldn’t have, and that he was merely living off of an idea that he had of himself. Although we understand and accept this, we still ache when he tries to please a parent who neither deserves or earns it and hold our breath and silently curse as we realize yet again that another opportunity has been squandered away. Through all of his pain and suffering, Wolff reminds us that life is messy. It’s gnarled. It’s complicated. Life sometimes is just like that…especially this boy’s life.
* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com