Our Story Begins is an apt title for Tobias Wolff's latest anthology of short stories. His openings are particularly arresting and he knows how to bait the narrative hook, from the bold set-up in ‘Two Boys and a Girl’ (‘Gilbert saw her first’) to the plangent prologue of ‘Firelight’ (‘My mother swore we'd never live in a boardinghouse again, but circumstances did not allow her to keep her promise’). Wolff was one of forty-four writers featured in the Granta Book of the American Short Story published last year. In his introduction, editor Richard Ford compared short stories to ‘daring little instruments’ which offer us ‘something big’ in minimal time and space. Having read Wolff's new collection I would say his stories are less like little instruments – that makes them sound far too clinical and dispassionate – than tightly knotted flower buds which unfurl before your eyes. You never know what wonders might be revealed.
Their organic nature is reinforced by the author's foreword, in which he reveals that he has never regarded his stories as sacred texts and that he constantly revises – and improves – them as time goes by. That is perhaps why they remain so fresh thirty years on. This is