Tobias Wolff is a contemporary writer whose work is so understandable, mesmerizing, and a little weird at times, a reader wants to take it apart and find some simple way to describe it (Ansell, 2011). Although sometimes taking place in such foreign locations, Wolff's stories are predominantly based on situations that are not overly dramatic to me like the religious or racist times in works from earlier time periods we studied but funny and a little gross at times. Just read “Dog Stew” and you will know what I mean. The best part of his writings in is the fact he draws the reader into the story at all times. He does so by connecting his characters and their conflicts to the reader, be it through quirks, qualities, or tight situations (James, 2010)
Through personal experience and careful observation Wolff gathers the necessary insight to piece together novels that clearly dealt with the 'normal' man and woman, their problems, their accomplishments, and their everyday lives. Wolff's stories do not consist of gory crimes, drug deals, or heated love triangles, but instead of real situations (Ansell, 2010). One such is when Wolff's older brother sent him some writing he had done and Wolff considered turning it into his English teacher as his, but dismissed the idea knowing he would never get away with it (Wolff, This Boy's Life.). Although occurring in an assortment of settings, many of Wolff's characters find themselves in situations they would never have thought possible. The characters of these stories are basically normal everyday people who discover that they are capable of things they never expected and can never again believe themselves worthy of being considered normal. For example, in the short story 'Hunters in the Snow,' by Wolff, a group of three middle-aged men are hunting in the woods when they come across a farm. Two men go inside and come out later and one is acting a little weird.
He says, 'I hate that tree,' and shoots it. Next, he approaches the farmer's dog, and says, 'I hate that dog,' and shoots it. Finally, he approaches one of his friends, nick-named 'Tubs,' and says, 'I hate you Tubs.' The next moment Tubs fires upon him, wounding his stomach. They quickly take to the hospital, and as they are driving the third friend informs Tubs that the farmer had asked him to shoot the dog, seeing that he was old and miserable. So, this example demonstrates how Wolff can take a normal event (hunting in the woods) and turn it into an extraordinary event for the three men participating in it. Wolff enjoys touching on the humor (sometimes a little dark and weird) of the ordinary person and the situations they must deal with, such as the story of Dog Stew. 'Dog Stew' was the name given to a puppy Wolff had rescued from the hungry soldiers during the Vietnam war. He took care of the puppy but it usually ended up being more of a headache because of the harassment he received from the soldiers, who would rub their bellies and lick their lips whenever they saw Wolff. On Wolff's last night in Vietnam, he was having dinner with some of his good friends from the war, and he was served a bowl of soup. He said it was very good and asked what it was, and his friends only replied by rubbing their stomachs and smacking their lips. When reading Wolff's books, the reader tends to feel drawn towards the characters and the problems they face.
Wolff uses three main elements to connect the character to the reader: quirks, qualities, and tight situations (James 2010). Wolff's books are packed full of quirks; it is impossible to read a page without seeing one. For instance, one morning in Vietnam 'he got hungry and made a sandwich, I became aware of my hands and what they were doing. How strange it is to spread mayonnaise. It can be the strangest thing you've ever done'(Tobias Wolff, In Pharaoh's Army). The second element is qualities. All characters have qualities, but Wolff chooses specific ones in order to make the reader further feel as if they inside the story. Wolff uses a wide range of qualities, but their goal is all the same: to make a character more realistic in the mind of the reader. For example, after getting his first fight Wolff returned home to his stepfather, Dwight. After explaining the whole story to him, Dwight's first words were 'Who won?'(Tobias Wolff, This Boy's Life). After reading this quote, the reader might think of Dwight as immature and uncaring. Wolff uses many of these types of subtle, realistic characteristics to create plausible qualities that assist in drawing the reader into the story. The last major element that Wolff uses to his advantage are tight situations. “Since many of the situationa Wolff presents are funny and never have been (and probably never will be) experienced by the reader, he must link them by conveying the feelings occurring in the scene (Ansell, 2011). During the start of his tour Wolff trained to be a jump leader for paratroopers. On his first jump, Wolff was supposed to wait for the yellow smoke before jumping. He instead saw black smoke, and being the only smoke in the sky he gave the order to jump. As they got closer to the ground, Wolff realized that the black smoke was actually smoke from a garbage burning facility. Two weeks after the two-mile trek forward to the real drop site, Wolff was sent back to Vietnam (Tobias Wolff, In Pharaoh's Army). The emotions conveyed in this scene could be loafing and embarrassment towards Wolff. I believe all Wolff's styles, concepts, and elements that were discussed are what make him an excellent contemporary writer. I believe that to truly understand Mr. Wolff, you must read his works. Yes, I'm sure that is the same for any author, but I believe it is more so for Tobias Wolff. You can summarize his works to others but they will never understand his completeness without reading his work. He possesses some kind of greatness, a little weirdness, and a sense of humor that cannot be explained in words, only in the eyes of the people reading his works.
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