by Geoffrey Wolfe
Vintage (February 19, 1990)
Tucker’s Rating: 7.5 / 10
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What’s it about?: The childhood memoir of author Geoffrey Wolfe, mainly detailing his relationship with his father. [Interesting note: Geoffrey is the brother of Tobias Wolfe, who wrote This Boy’s Life, which is about Geoffrey’s mother. I would read both as a pair.]
Tucker’s Opinion: This is a very good book, well worth reading, but I personally didn’t relate as much to this book as I did to the This Boys Life, probably because I grew up with my mom and not my dad. The other issue is one of memoir style: Where Tobias stripped away almost everything that wasn’t either what happened or how it made him feel, Geoffrey spends quite a bit more time on characterizing and evaluating behavior. In essence, he lets his own issues get in the way of the reality of the story, and that always hurts any memoir, especially one that is centered on the emotional pain caused by a parent.
Notable Quotes (as marked by Tucker):
As I read about the debts of that “natty dresser” I felt shame, decided he was merely a bad man, with shabby, canted values. Not complicated, simply off base. Or rather that is what I felt I ought to feel. It was my father, though, who taught me that we should distinguish in this life between what we feel and what we feel we should feel. That if we can distinguish between these things we may have access to some truths about ourselves.
I took aim at a high turret, and my eyes were indifferent to the background of my target till I pulled the trigger, and saw what I had just done. The bullet dusted away the sand turret, and thucked into the log six inches from my father’s thigh.
He didn’t confiscate my rifle. He didn’t beat me. He didn’t shout at me. He comforted me, but he also let me know something consequential had just happened; this did not upset the balance between us, but affirmed it. For several years after I pulled that trigger I did not argue with my father’s judgments.
Suppose for a moment, thinking back to your fictions, that you could will them to be true. Would this make you happy?