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Old School (2003)

by Tobias Wolff

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,222744,861 (3.8)97
Determined to fit in at his New England prep school, the narrator has learned to mimic the bearing and manners of his adoptive tribe while concealing as much as possible about himself. His final year, however, unravels everything he's achieved, and steers his destiny in directions no one could have predicted. The school's mystique is rooted in Literature, and for many boys this becomes an obsession, editing the review and competing for the attention of visiting writers whose fame helps to perpetuate the tradition. Robert Frost, soon to appear at JFK's inauguration, is far less controversial than the next visitor, Ayn Rand. But the final guest is one whose blessing a young writer would do almost anything to gain.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 70 (next | show all)
I loved the poem that imitates Robert Frost's verse in an erotic way. Wolff is a genius to come up with that. ( )
  JoeHamilton | Jul 21, 2020 |
This book is worth it just to read the fictional portrayals of Frost, Ayn Rand, and Hemingway. It has a bit of an old trope--the narrator, a student at a prestigious East Coast boarding school, is really (gasp) a bit of an outsider...he's poor AND Jewish!--but it captures something about American sensibilities of class, money, intellectual dishonesty and the desire for something better. And as an English teacher I have to love any story that elevates the love of literature to a cult-like status. ( )
1 vote ChristopherSwann | May 15, 2020 |
I am no longer a Tobias Wolff virgin. I thoroughly enjoy my first Wolff book until the 2nd to last chapter. The book was engrossing with his literature references, writer cameos and especially the protagonist's story of his final year at an all boys private school.
Emotions galore about in this book. You laugh at his descriptions of this peers, cry when you realize he must leave the school even before he knows he is leaving. Hasn't everyone thought of adding their name to something so wonderful that it feels s if it is yours?

As you read Old School you feel the characters jumping out of the book and into your own life. Who has never had a Big Jeff in their school or a Bill White? I know I did. Which is what makes this book so good, and yet disappointing at the same time. That 2nd to last chapter of the protagonist's story seemed rushed and completely different than the rest of the book as if Wolff just didn't know how to tie it all up. Such a let down.

The final Chapter - Master was the story of the Dean and I wished that it had been somehow woven into the meeting with Mr. Ramsey so as not to have it thrown in as if it was an after thought.

I would have loved to give this book a rating of 5 stars except for those last 2 chapters. The storyline in those last chapters were great, but seemed even to be writing as if by someone else instead of Wolff and maybe that is because it is in the protagonist's older voice. It just didn't sit well with me... Sadly, as I adore the rest of the book.
( )
  SandraBrower | Oct 27, 2019 |
It's hard to tell the truth; I think Tobias Wolff does. There are vignettes and phrases that now will flash at certain moments - such as "sodden dinners" - but The line that reverberated with me is on pg. 193 “ Had he learned nothing from all those years of teaching Hawthorne? Through story after story he’d led his boys to consider the folly of obsession with purity – its roots sunk deep in pride, flowering condemnation and violence against others and self.” I think the whole story is a set up for this last chapter – and this insight. The roots of our violence are in our desire to be guiltless, perfect, beautiful, flawless, right – pure.

I love the little hook on our imagination on p. 174 – the false end to the real story – “ He didn’t quite finish. While describing Dean Makepeace’s wedding he broke off and …” It’s only after we finish the book that we think: WHAT wedding??? That is just delightful.
And so I’m left imagining whom he might marry. There being no candidates, it’s 100% up to me to imagine.

( )
  MaryHeleneMele | May 6, 2019 |
This is more than a coming-of-age story. It requires the reader to look at truth in a new way. ( )
  anitatally | Feb 28, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 70 (next | show all)
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Why did you like to me?
I always thought I told the truth.
Why did you like to me?
Because the truth lies like nothing else and I love the truth.

--Mark Strand, Elegy for My Father
For my teachers
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Robert Frost made his visit in November of 1960, just a week after the general election.
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