Some boys idolize baseball players and make pilgrimages to Fenway Park. Others idolize Hemingway, collect first editions and dream of seeing their own names on the covers of great books. It's these literary aesthetes in the making who populate the boarding school world of Old School, Tobias Wolff's first novel.
The author of the stunning memoir This Boy's Life gives us the story of an unnamed boy vying for a place in a world beyond his demographic, among those who were bred to inhabit hallowed halls. Wolff paints an authentic picture of life in an upper-crust boy's boarding school, with all its tradition and nostalgic ritual. The narrative revolves around the boys' obsession with the literary, and, in particular, with the visiting writers who visit the campus. More revered than presidents, these writers bestow the greatest honor imaginable when they choose the best poem or story submitted and hold a private audience with its author. There's a manic devotion that takes hold of the boys as they anticipate these events, and our hero is right there with them. As Robert Frost and Ayn Rand make their appearances, the dissonance between their idealized images as great writers and their true selves makes its mark, but does not dim his love for the next and final visitor: Hemingway himself. In the end, it's our hero's love for writers and the image of himself as a part of this literary brotherhood that clouds his judgment and allows him to make a fatal mistake one that alienates him from the very world he loves. Years after this stunning loss, the narrator discovers his unlikely partner in deception a man whose own misstep nearly cost him his place at the school, too. Only these two seemingly disparate men share this tremendous weight of awestruck love for school and the life of the mind, and only they would have lied to preserve it. This literary coming-of-age story will resonate with readers. Sarah Goodrum writes from Nashville.