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Back in the World

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  978 Ratings  ·  61 Reviews
To American soldiers in Vietnam, "back in the world" meant America and safety. To Tobias Wolff's characters, Back in the World is where lives that have veered out of control just might become normal again. Unfortunately, the men and women in these gripping, pungent, and wonderfully skewed stories have only the vaguest notion of what normal is. A gentle priest finds himself ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published October 1st 1996 by Vintage (first published 1985)
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Scott
Nov 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Wolff's style is flawless. Characters are rich, descriptions are spare, simple, and powerful. For that his writing is always enjoyable to read.

Typically excellent dialog.

But more than once I wanted something to happen -- anything -- that didn't. Characters just move on, with no particular aim. The endings are seldom conclusive, and once there, you wonder just what the story accomplished. Well-written, but what was actually changed in the characters' lives?

It's entirely possible a second reading
...more
Daryl
Jul 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
An old Bob Geldof song, from 1990, contains the lines "And I got into bed/And started reading a book/By a guy named Tobias Wolff/It’s good it’s short stories/Just before you sleep he’ll take/You off to Burma…Mandalay/Places like that." That may have been the first time I heard of Tobias Wolff (so thanks for that, Bob Geldof), and I've since read his novel The Barracks Thief and at least one other collection of short stories. Wolff is a master of the short story form, on a par with the likes of R ...more
Terry Heller
Jan 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Another fantastic short story collection by Tobias Wolff. I would read anything this guy cares to publish. I would read Tobias Wolff's grocery list.*

*If there was a four and one-half star designation, I would have given it to this book. There isn't, and I couldn't quite go all of the way up to five. But this book is terrific.
Kendall
Collection of short stories. This was a special Reader's Edition published in 1996 that I found in a NYC bookstore. It was meant for reviewers and it's full of typos. Good stories- but the endings all frustrated the hell out of me because the message was so subtle that half the time I didn't get what the message was.
Adam
Jan 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I had only read a couple anthologized Wolff stories until reading this collection. I truly loved it. Simple and good.
Joe
Jan 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Unreal. I will probably put all of my reading plans on hold to catch up on Wolff's short stories. Highlights: Missing Person and Desert Breakdown, 1968.
Allison
Jun 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
I typically have a hard time with books of short stories, but Woff is clearly a very talented writer and thus swept me along through his collection. I would happily read more stories by him, and as a writer, seek to emulate much of what he has done in this collection. (The priest in Las Vegas was especially memorable.)

However . . . I'm going to crib from another reviewer, because he wrote exactly what I feel:

But more than once I wanted something to happen -- anything -- that didn't. Characters j
...more
Nick Lehr
Nov 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was my first time reading Tobias Wolff’s short stories (I’ve previously read Old School and This Boy’s Life).

Here’s what stood out:

- A weirdness lurking beneath the mundane
- Encounters between — not necessarily “opposites,” but — people of varying circumstances or backgrounds
- Atmospheric setting and tension
- A story within the story; in a few stories, one character ends up telling a story to other characters. (Why do we choose to tell certain stories? What does it say about us?)

Take “Sist
...more
Jesse
May 16, 2008 rated it liked it
Okay so Tobias Wolff is human. Although many stories in this collection were as strong as his first book and his third book of stories, for once I actually stopped reading a story in the middle. "Desert Breakdown, 1968" was full of cliche characters: the ambitious actor, the hicks working at a gas station in the middle of nowhere, the stoic cowboys (as the're called in the story), and thus I wasn't drawn into the story like I am with almost all of Wolff's fiction. There was some stories, however ...more
Patrick McCoy
Dec 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed Tobias Wolff’s short story collection Back In The World. I first encountered his writing in a Creative Writing class in college when we read the excellent short story “In the Garden of North American Martyrs.” And I recently read his impressive memoir, A Boy’s Life about growing up in the Pacific Northwest. His stories are unusual and haunting in the eerily apt details the give the stories and characters life. The characters in his stories draw to mind comparisons to Raymond Car ...more
El
This collection of short stories from the eighties feels pretty much just as it is: a collection of short stories from the eighties. There are some choice pieces, such as the first story, Coming Attractions, which I had hoped would set the tone for the entire bunch. The rest of the stories, with the exception of one or two, were really substandard at best. I like Tobias Wolff and am always eager to read new things by him, but perhaps delving into his earlier career was a bit more than I could ha ...more
Amy Jenkins
Sep 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Short stories that create a world and draw the reader into the dispairty between dreams and reality--yet hope, courage, and values persist in many of the stories.
Daniel
May 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
While I recognized what an excellent writer Tobias Wolff was in this book, I can't say that I was particularly drawn by his characters or stories. They all seemed to be overshadowed by a layer of darkness that was depressing.

One review puts in well in saying that as he tells the story of his characters "he reveals the disparity between their realities and their dreams." This places is it well and is perhaps why I don't like his overall tone because I am too much of a dreamer and I do believe in
...more
Steven
Mar 16, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: short-stories
Not the first time I've read this and it seems a bit dated now. "Coming Attractions" is a great story, it just builds incident after incident, and then that ending scene, wow. "Sister" is one I remember from an anthology years ago. Very much an 80s story. Brilliant characterization of people at a point in their lives, no attempt to reveal life histories, just here and now. Still, it has a universal quality about it that is quite subtle, but I think that is the story's lasting power. "The Poor Ar ...more
Kylin Larsson
Jun 12, 2009 rated it it was ok
This collection of short stories fell short of my expectations. I haven't read much of Wolff and expected more based on his reputation. Of the ten stories, I thought one was truly excellent: "Desert Breakdown, 1968." As in many of Wolff's stories in this collection, this one featured a young discharged soldier. He has to make a choice between pursuing a career in entertainment or being loyal to his pregnant German wife and young son. The story has great tension and a lot of emotional ups and dow ...more
Greg
Aug 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Well... No shocker here that Tobias Wolff gives us some Dirty Realism at its finest. I've come to always expect these enjoyable, gritty and worthy little episodes from him, and this collection was no exception.

If you're on a short story kick, or having trouble getting into that 300 page novel.. Give these a try. All of them are great, and I especially enjoyed "The Poor are always with Us," "Desert Breakdown, 1968," and "Rich Brother."

I think I'd still rank this collection of stories just behind
...more
Mark Thomas
Well written collection of stories about folks on the edge of things. Their normal lives are odd and they move sideways better than ahead or behind.

The writing follows the characters in that it is clear and almost in your face in detail but as in an independent movie drama we are simply removed from the story with a long fadeaway as an ending, not quite sure where things are going when the writing...and story ends.

An easy read as Wolff has an engaging, sparse writing style that moves you into an
...more
Alan
Jun 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
1987 notebook: sharp, clear 'dirty realist' stories, language of vigour and clarity, language with its sleeves rolled up. Spare, telling prose. The yuppie offered a bong at the garage - 'Gracious that's righteous weed'. They - the mechanics - make fun of him, but the yuppie wins the car from them.
In Desert Breakdown the husband tempted to run off with the dubious film crew in a hearse.
An estranged priest feels hollow, stands up and looks at his feet side by side a long way down on the rug.
Anoth
...more
Colleen Mulrooney
Apr 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I was lucky enough to hear Mr. Wolfe read a couple of his stories when he came to a local university this past spring. As if the stories weren't wonderful enough, to hear them read them in his deep, comforting voice, brought them to new levels! He was personable and candid, thoughtfully answering questions from students & professors and chatting about his writing style. He seems as warm and honest in person as his stories characters.
Dave
Mar 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2010
There were a few stories that were magnificent, and a few that left something to be desired. "The Poor Are Always With Us" is a little bit of a Hemingway knock-off ("The Undaunted"), but "Coming Attractions," "Desert Breakdown, 1968," and "The Rich Brother" have stuck with me all weekend. Tobias Wolff is by far one of the best psychological short story writers. Ever. Period.
Lewis Timberman
Jun 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The first Tobias Wolff book I read. LOVED this book. In my opinion, the author does a better job introducing characters in short stories than he does in his longer works. I heard the first story in the book read on "Selected Shorts" which led me to discover a masterful short story artist.
Sarah Rogers
Jun 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This man is a master of the medium of short fiction.

"The Rich Brother" is my favorite in this collection. I read it out loud to my friends on a road trip. It had us snickering at some points, and our hearts swelling with poignancy at others.
James
Jun 17, 2008 rated it liked it
Some of the shorts are good, Coming attractions, The Missing Person, while other stories just go on and on. All of the stories never really conclude and the characters are sometimes just interesting enough to keep you reading.

Digi Munoz
Apr 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sure. Great book. 20 page stories, usually involving two or more characters. These stories take you through a dessert, a casino, hotels, and many other places.

Having finished it, I can't recall many of the stories, as it feels that they have been with me for a long time.
Jason G
Jan 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Picked this up because someone recommended it. They said he makes telling odd, moving stories look easy. They were right. It's kind of like Winesburg, Ohio in its characters and Americana quality, and also like Raymond Carver in its themes, but far less despondent.
Sam
Jun 09, 2008 rated it liked it
This is a collection of short stories by Tobias Wolff. Most of the stories in this collection could best be described as snapshots in time. Origins and conclusions are left to the reader.

Recommended.
Sean McBride
Mar 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
Wolff is a master of human emotion without ever coming out and telling the reader what the characters are thinking. He uses circumstance and dialogue to convey the emotions.

Simply said I'm in awe of his abilities.
Lindsay
Apr 15, 2012 rated it liked it
I love Tobias Wolff, but in this book, you can tell he was really playing with form and still working things out. These stories have moments of insight, but overall, complicated frame devices in the stories overshadow the writing.
Craig
Jun 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
These are just great American short stories. The scope and the subjects are simple and beautiful. The landscapes stark and the voice stern and lacking the romantic American imagination of fast cars, bikinis and television sets. Wolff captures the inner turmoil of American life beautifully.
Joe Krudys
I read a recent story by Wolff in The New Yorker and liked it, and so I thought I'd give one of his collections a try. Aside from "Desert Breakdown, 1968", which I would give a 5, and maybe one other story that I'd give a 3, the rest of the stories just did absolutely nothing for me.
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7371
Tobias Jonathan Ansell Wolff is a writer of fiction and nonfiction.

He is best known for his short stories and his memoirs, although he has written two novels.

Wolff is the Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University, where he has taught classes in English and creative writing since 1997. He also served as the director of the Creative Writ
...more
More about Tobias Wolff...
“We didn’t know it then,' Hooper said. 'We used to talk about how when we got back in the world we were going to do this and we were going to do that. Back in the world we were going to have it made. But ever since then it’s been nothing but confusion.' Hooper took the cigarette case from his pocket but didn’t open it. He leaned forward on the table.

'Everything was clear,' he said. 'You learned what you had to know and you forgot the rest. All this chickenshit. This clutter. You didn’t spend every living minute of the day thinking about your own sorry-ass little self. Am I getting laid enough. What’s wrong with my kid. Should I insulate the fucking house. That’s what does it to you, Porchoff. Thinking about yourself. That’s what kills you in the end.”
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“We didn’t know it then,” Hooper said. “We used to talk about how when we got back in the world we were going to do this and we were going to do that. Back in the world we were going to have it made. But ever since then it’s been nothing but confusion.” Hooper took the cigarette case from his pocket but didn’t open it. He leaned forward on the table.

“Everything was clear,” he said. “You learned what you had to know and you forgot the rest. All this chickenshit. This clutter. You didn’t spend every living minute of the day thinking about your own sorry-ass little self. Am I getting laid enough. What’s wrong with my kid. Should I insulate the fucking house. That’s what does it to you, Porchoff. Thinking about yourself. That’s what kills you in the end.”
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