In the garden of the North American martyrs

Tobias Wolff, 1945-

Book - 1981

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New York, N.Y. : Ecco Press 1981.
Main Author
Tobias Wolff, 1945- (-)
Physical Description
175 p.
  • Next door
  • Hunters in the snow
  • An episode in the life of professor Brooke
  • Smokers
  • Face to face
  • Passengers
  • Maiden voyage
  • Worldly goods
  • Wingfield
  • In the garden of the North American martyrs
  • Poaching
  • The liar.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Wolff, in his first--and fitfully successful--collection of stories, ropes us in most surely when he allows himself to get complicated. Played against a mostly flat, denatured narrative tone (something like Raymond Carver's), the more wayward and involved tales break into sharp, often haunting places. In the much-anthologized title-story, life-long disappointment is kindled for a brief angry moment into a magnificent denunciation. In ""Face to Face,"" a newly single woman goes out with a man whom she quickly enough realizes would rather not, would prefer ultimately to be alone. And in ""The Liar,"" a fatherless, 16-year-old boy is caught up in compulsive falsehoods concerning his mother's health. Wolff's male characters are often interestingly peculiar: finicky, demanding, fuddy-duddy at all ages, perfectionist creators of secondary worlds whenever the primary one falls short; and in ""Passengers,"" the banality of a relationship is made so threatening and stifling that you almost gasp for breath. But the other stories are not nearly as good as these--sometimes too ironic and predictable (""Hunters in the Snow""), sometimes too self-consciously detached--and Wolff's talent is still clearly in its testing stage. At its best, however, when it has patience and ambition, the storytelling gift here is already very impressive. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

In The Garden Of The North American Martyrs Stories Chapter One Next Door I wake up afraid. My wife is sitting on the edge of my bed, shaking me. "They're at it again," she says. I go to the window. All their lights are on, upstairs and down, as if they have money to burn. He yells, she screams something back, the dog barks. There is a short silence, then the baby cries, poor thing. "Better not stand there," says my wife. "They might see you." I say, "I'm going to call the police," knowing she won't let me. "Don't," she says. She's afraid that they will poison our cat if we complain. Next door the man is still yelling, but I can't make out what he's saying over the dog and the baby. The woman laughs, not really meaning it, "Ha! Ha! Ha!," and suddenly gives a sharp little cry. Everything goes quiet. "He struck her," my wife says. "I felt it just the same as if he struck me." Next door the baby gives a long wail and the dog starts up again. The man walks out into his driveway and slams the door. "Be careful," my wife says. She gets back into her bed and pulls the covers Lip to her neck. 'Me man Mumbles to himself and jerks at his fly. Finally lie gets it open and walks over to our fence. It's a white picket fence, ornamental more than anything else. It couldn't keep anyone out. I put it in myself, and planted honeysuckle and bougainvillea all along it. My wife says, "What's lie doing?" "Shh," I say. He leans against the fence with one hand and with the other he goes to the bathroom on the flowers. He walks the length of the fence like that, not missing any of them. When he's through he gives Florida a shake, then zips up and heads back across the driveway. He almost slips on the gravel but he catches himself and curses and goes into the house, slamming the door again. When I turn around my wife is leaning forward, watching me. She raises her eyebrows. "Not again," she says. I nod. "Number one or number two?" "Number one." "Thank God for small favors," she says, settling back. "Between him and the dog it's a wonder you can get anything to grow out there." I read somewhere that human pee has a higher acid content than animal pee, but I don't mention that. I would rather talk about something else. It depresses me, thinking about the flowers. They are past their prime, but still. Next door the woman is shouting. "Listen to that," I say. "I used to feel sorry for her," my wife says. "Not any more. Not after last month. " "Ditto," I say, trying to remember what happened last month to make my wife not feel sorry for the woman next door. I don't feel sorry for her either, but then I never have. She yells at the baby, and excuse me, but I'm not about to get all excited over someone who treats a child like that. She screams things like "I thought I told you to stay in your 'bedroom!" and here the baby can't even speak English yet. As far as her looks, I guess you would have to say she's pretty. But it won't last. She doesn't have good bone structure. She has a soft look to her, like she has never eaten anything but donuts and milk shakes. Her skin is white. The baby takes after her, not that you would expect it to take after him, dark and hairy. Even with his shirt on you can tell that he has hair all over his back and on his shoulders, thick and springy like an Airedale's. Now they're all going at once over there, plus they've got the hi-fi turned on full blast. One of those bands. "It's the baby I feel sorry for," I say. My wife puts her hands over her ears. "I can't stand another minute of it," she says. She takes her hands away. "Maybe there's something on TV." She sits up. "See who's on Johnny." I turn on the television. It used to be down in the den but I brought it up here a few years ago when my wife came down with an illness. I took care of her myself-made the meals and everything. I got to where I could change the sheets with her still in the bed. I always meant to take the television back down when my wife recovered from her illness, but I never got around to it. It sits between our beds on a little table I made. Johnny is saying something to Sammy Davis, Jr. Ed McMahon is bent over laughing. He is always so cheerful. If you were going to take a really long voyage you could do worse than bring Ed McMahon along. "Sammy," says my wife. "Who else is on besides Sammy. I look at the TV guide. "A bunch of people I never heard of." I read off their names. My wife hasn't heard of them either. She wants to know what else is on. " 'El Dorado,' " I read. " 'Brisk adventure yarn about a group of citizens in search of the legendary city of gold.' It's got two-and-a-half stars beside it." Citizens of what?" my wife asks. In The Garden Of The North American Martyrs Stories . Copyright © by Tobias Wolff. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from In the Garden of the North American Martyrs: Stories by Tobias Wolff All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.