Exquisite Portraits by Tobias Wolff

Article excerpt

THE NIGHT IN QUESTION

Stories by Tobias Wolff

206 pages, Knopt, $23 ***** THE ART AND CRAFT of the short story - a scene, an emotion, a moment captured in pinpoint, piercing prose - is on display in nearly every page of Tobias Wolff's "The Night in Question." Each of the collection's 15 stories creates a precise, exquisite portrait for readers to identify with, marvel at and enjoy. Wolff's strongest talent is his ability to distill the essence of his atmosphere in his opening sentence, or even in his titles. "Migraine," for example, begins with a woman suffering a debilitating headache at work but moves smoothly into the larger problems in her life; "The Chain" ostensibly refers to the ineffective restraint on a vicious dog but also refers to the inexorable progression of one decision to another, with deadly result. "Sanity" describes a visit to a mental hospital, but the undercurrent shows how a girl and her stepmother are struggling to maintain a relationship in the absence of the man who connects them. That story also demonstrates Wolff's ability to snare a reader with his opening words: "Getting from La Jolla to Alta Vista State Hospital isn't easy, unless you have a car or a breakdown." Wolff's characters are men and women, adults and children, in settings ranging from war to the workplace to the family tensions that will be familiar to every reader. He masters them all with equal ease. …

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