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In the Garden of the North American Martyrs

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  2,065 ratings  ·  164 reviews
Among the characters you'll find in this collection of twelve stories by Tobias Wolff, are a teenage boy who tells morbid lies about his home life, a timid professor who, in the first genuine outburst of her life, pours out her opinions in spite of a protesting audience, a prudish loner who gives an obnoxious hitchhiker a ride, and an elderly couple on a golden anniversary ...more
Paperback, 175 pages
Published May 11th 2004 by Ecco (first published 1981)
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4.15  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,065 ratings  ·  164 reviews

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Apr 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
I'm glad I took the time to pick up this collection. I don't read as many short stories as I should - and when I run across a good collection, as was the case here, I'm reminded of how powerful the form can be.

For me the unifying theme of this collection is how poorly people treat each other. Ordinarily I probably wouldn't seek out that kind of fare, but these stories are enjoyable precisely because Wolff is so deft at presenting charachters that are genuinely crappy people. You can almost feel
Apr 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
This was a well-balanced story collection. The stories were beautifully written, with believable and relatable (if not always likable) characters. A few of the stories were exceptionally strong and memorable. These were the first short stories I've read by Wolff and I am now a fan.
Stef Smulders
Jun 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Like in his novel Old School, the theme of these stories is honesty: how to be sincere with your friends, your family without hurting them? Tobias Wolf knows this puzzle can’t be solved and therefore just presents the situations in which the dilemma occurs as well as the painful escape routes the characters choose. This is Tobias’ debut collection and although the quality of most stories is excellent, there are a few that do not quite reach top level. In one the hitchhiker and chauffeur suddenly ...more
Daniel King
Sep 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Over the course of this last summer I read quite a few collections of short stories, and I've been finding it hard to decide what rating to give them. Should a five star collection be one made up solely of great stories, with no duds, or can five stars be awarded on the basis of one really outstanding story in an otherwise mediocre collection? "In the Garden of the North American Martyrs" falls somewhere in between, hence the four stars I gave it. Not all of the stories are great; in fact a coup ...more
Mar 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Once again, Tobias Wolff amazes. All the great things you read about him and his work are absolutely true. Every story kind of sucks you in to this new world and new situation each time, and holds you through to the end. And no matter what race, gender or age... All the characters are totally believable, and so it makes you interested in everything they do and everything that may happen to them.

He does this great thing where, all his stories start out as normal as can be, all the while you are
Mar 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone, writers, liars
This is a great collection of short stories. They vary in length, topic and tone, but all of them have an almost pungent insight into a character's experience of life. They are extremely relatable, and genuinely interesting.

I had read "Hunters in the Snow" in high school, and had found it, along with a classic Wolff story not in this volume ("Bullet in the Brain") to be among the most memorable short stories I had ever read. It's still a chilling, bizarre story. Other stories take us all over No
Kellyn Toombs
May 22, 2015 rated it liked it
While I didn't think this book was bad in any way, I also was not particularly fond of it, because I thought that some stories were much better than others. I absolutely loved the title story, as I thought it had a great ending and it had a clear moral message. I also enjoyed the last story, "The Liar", because of the interesting characters and the dilemmas they faced. However, I found some of the stories, such as "Next Door," felt to me like had no formal plot or moral lesson; they were simply ...more
May 21, 2017 rated it liked it
2.5. Didn't hate it, didn't love it. One of the stories is about a scholarly type who acts like an asshole and obliquely justifies it to himself, which is the worst most tired subject ever, and that brought the collection down a whole star for me. It would be nice if I could go the rest of my life without hearing another sordid tale about a male professor.

Maybe this would've been better or at least more impressive had I read it when it was still new. By now I've read so many short stories it see
Irene Ziegler
Jun 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
I forgot how good this one is. One of the best contemporary short story collections available. Wolff, author of This Boy's Life, cuts to the heart of men and maleness with muscular precision and grace. One of my all time favorites.
Apr 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Economy of style renders some very memorable stories

Wolff's debut story collection hits just the right note; he writes with an economy of description, dialogue, and character that practically approaches minimalism. The stories provide a variety of moods, and readers are left with much material for appreciation and analysis. Writers of fiction can learn much from Wolff in terms of honing their craft. Highly recommended!
Rahul  Adusumilli
Jul 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Rahul by: David Sedaris
Shelves: shorts, fiction, lit
When you read short stories, this is what you expect. I should be giving this 5 stars.
Colin Brightwell
Apr 21, 2017 rated it liked it
3.25 stars
Aug 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(This review was first published at )

Tobias Wolff’s first short story collection, this summer republished within the Ecco Art of the Story series, was the beneficiary of a much-touted “renaissance” of the short story three decades ago. This summer, In the Garden of the North American Martyrs reenters the public conscious with a sustained vitality and an encouraging patina. The notion of a so-called rennaissance, a not untypical marketing exaggeration, has dissipated from th
Holy Transfiguration Bookstore
Nov 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
In our daily walk through the world, we face situations that are uncomfortable, unclear, and unbalanced. And sometimes, these queasy and grey situations may be in fact of our own making as we stumble misguided and oblivious toward moral quicksand. There is a place for cautionary tales.

Tobias Wolff’s stories provide an opportunity to reflect on ourselves. Wolff’s deft storytelling makes for sharply-drawn characters and situations that generally feel unforced, being painfully normal, yet deeply re
Matt Simmons
Jul 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
There's a long-standing notion literary types have, of looking at people we know and saying that they "live their lives as if they're in a book." Wolff writes a group of short stories where each reads like real life. Nothing is affected here; rather, the mundane occurrences of everyday life are shown for what they really are, for what we, in living them, realize about these occurrences: that they are messy, complicated moments of moral ambiguity to which we bring a sense of moral absolutism that ...more
Nov 13, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Tobias Wolff fans
This was Tobias Wolff’s first book, a collection of short stories. If I’d read this before The Night in Question, I probably wouldn’t have bothered picking up another book by him. He clearly made some great advancements in originality and craft in the fifteen years between the two collections. Most of the stories in In the Garden start with an interesting situation, push the characters along and then drop off or end with a off-beat image. Many of the stories feel more like experiments than tight ...more
I heard part of one of these stories on an npr program a few months ago and remember hating it. Maybe it was poor narration or lack of context. I enjoyed the book much more. The story I heard was the namesake of the book and the narrator read most of the cruel characters in a shrill, creepy voice. It gave me the same uneasy feeling I get from anything with a particularly sadistic vibe: a Christmas Story, Napolean Dynamite, etc. I didn't realize that the last few paragraphs would completely redee ...more
Sep 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Haeri by: the New Yorker
Tobias Wolff expertly furrows the rich realism soil with these twelve short stories, fully entrenching me in the all-too lonesome world he depicts. The narrators are not very likable but that is why I like them. They're full of the same neuroticism and shortcomings bubbling under the surface of you and me.

Immediately after starting this, I noticed my writing style turning conspicuously Wolffish. Alas, he made it all look so deceptively simple! So I appropriated some of his imagery cuz, you kno
Aug 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is an incredible selection of short stories. From the back cover, Joyce Carol Oates proclaims it "one of the strongest ... in recent years" and she is correct in so saying.

The subjects of these tales are imperfect characters, some more self-aware of their brokenness than others, and even the most a-moral retains humanity. Journeying with these flawed souls is as comfortable as putting on a favorite coat. The reader can empathize, even when the experiences depicted may diverge from his/her o
Jul 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I used to read short stories regularly and I'm not sure why I stopped; this book reminded me why I enjoyed them so much. Of course, Wolff is an exceptional writer, and these stories all leave you thinking about them long after you finish. They are perfect summer reading; grab one at the beach, another out on the deck, and still another after your coffee the next morning. Not light, but not too heavy either; think strawberries with cream instead of the torte.
Jul 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
The stories in this collection are seamlessly told with the kind of art and craft of a great master. In the story “Liar,” James describes the difference between his mother and father: "She was a lighter of candles ... My father was curser of the dark. And he loved to curse the dark," (162). Tobias Wolff also loves to curse the dark and does so lovingly, honestly and precisely.
Jan 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The only other short story writer that compares to Wolff (in my opinion) is Richard Bausch. I loved this collection. I devoured the book in a day. I wish I had taken more time, because there is so much to digest with each story. I know I will read it again. It is always nice to read a author who is so good at the art of writing itself.
Peter Zuppardo
Apr 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
His best. If I were forced to take a train somewhere very far from my home and had only a very small backpack, or no backpack at all, I would take this book with me.
Oct 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
(FROM MY BLOG) Tobias Wolff teaches English and creative writing at Stanford University.  I first learned of his writing when I was sent his fictionalized childhood memoir, This Boy's Life, as part of a subscription to works by Stanford faculty.  I liked it, having as yet no inkling that it would ultimately be made into a movie, a star vehicle for a young Leonardo DiCaprio.

In This Boy's Life, Wolff tells of Toby's unhappy and somewhat delinquent childhood in a small town in the North Cascades. 
Maggie Pate
Oct 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Very good. Look forward to reading more from this author. Maggie
Jun 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
It’s a shame really, that Tobias Wolff’s In the Garden of North American Martyrs fails to achieve the greatness of his other works. The stories are fun and clever, but Wolff entangled himself so deeply in the dense characters that he created for this short story collection that he forgot to continue on in finishing their lives and narratives.
In the title story, Mary, a professor of history first at the fiction Brandon and then at an unnamed Oregon institution, tries to live as meakly and effect
Feb 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: short-fiction
This collection starts and ends with a bang. The first story, "Next Door", makes you sit up and pay attention: a brief glimpse into a world of self-contained amorality. The next, "Hunters in the Snow", turns the parameters of that world up to their limits without ever stretching the boundaries of the credible. The result is intensely discomforting, and ruthlessly realistic. The last three stories - the titular "In the Garden of the North American Martyrs", "Poaching", and "The Liar" - are a litt ...more
Brian Blickenstaff
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who like George Saunders, People who like Tim O'Brien
I picked this up at a used bookstore ($1.00!) after reading CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. Wolff was a prof at Syracuse when Saunders was a student there, and Saunders lists him as one of his biggest influences. (One of my projects this year is to dig into the literary family trees of some of my favorite authors.) In the afterward to CivilWarLand Saunders says he only really found his own voice after he decided to stop copying writers like Wolff. It's easy to see how a student could fall into that ...more
As with any collection of stories, some appealed more than others. However, all the characters are vividly drawn and are each put in situations in which there is a moral dilemma, some with more serious consequences than others. How they will meet these dilemmas becomes the question.

I liked several stories in this volume. But the title story, In the Garden of the North American Martyrs, is the one I liked the best. Mary, a history professor, loses her job when her college closes. Although she f
Dec 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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Best short stories in this collection? 1 1 Feb 15, 2016 07:13AM  

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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
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