Some months ago, I was driving, listening to the audiobook of Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff, a collection of short stories. I got home and pulled into the parking space for my apartment. It was nighttime and quiet — all the neighbors were asleep. I turned off the engine but kept the key in the ignition so the battery would power the audio system in the car. I switched off the headlights. I sat in my car, engulfed in darkness, and took in the rich voice the narrator until the story came to an end. They is. They is. They is.
The story, “Bullet in the Brain,” which ends that way, is one of the best in the collection. It’s funny and tender, and in how the message is delivered, quite innovative I thought. Your life flashes before your eyes–Wolff transforms this hackneyed thought into something original.
Another favorite is “Down to Bone,” about a son tending to his mother on her deathbed. He darts out for a couple hours to tidy up the agreement with the funeral home. When he returns, the mother has so deteriorated that she thinks he is her father. “Daddy,” she says. “It’s all right,” the son says. “I’m here.” Realizing that “he no longer knew how to be a son, but he still knew how to be a father,” he tells her: “Everything’s fine, sweetheart. Everything’s going to be fine.” She whispers back, “Daddy…You’re here.”
Tobias Wolff is one of the living giants of American literature. Here’s my review of Old School. Here’s one of my favorite parts of This Boy’s Life. Here’s my rave of In Pharaoh’s Army. Here’s a quote of his about how everything comes to an end from a list of some other favorite lines of books. Here’s how Wolff has complimented George Saunders
I like short story collections in audiobook format. If you’re not digging a story, you skip to the next. In a normal book, if you listen to it as audio, and you lose interest, it’s hard to swap out to a new one. The big downside to audiobooks is you can’t underline or take notes. For Our Story Begins, I bought a paperback edition so I could do that, after I had listened to it.