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Publisher's Summary

First published in 1989, this scarifying memoir has become a classic of the genre, as notable for its artful structure and finely wrought prose as for the events it describes. The book essentially launched the memoir craze that has been going strong ever since. It was made into a movie in 1993.

The story is pretty grim: teen-aged Wolff moves with his divorced mother from Florida to Utah to Washington State to escape her violent boyfriend. When she remarries, Wolff finds himself in a bitter battle of wills with his abusive stepfather, a contest in which the two prove to be more evenly matched than might have been supposed.

Deception, disguise, and illusion are the weapons the young man learns to employ as he grows up, not bad training for a writer-to-be. Somber though this tale of family strife is, it is also darkly funny and so artistically satisfying that listeners come away exhilarated.

©1989 Tobias Wolff (P)2010 HighBridge Company

Critic Reviews

"Unforgettable." (Time )
"At once compassionate and deeply disturbing." (The New York Times Magazine)
"A jewel-like memoir of childhood in the 1950s...Lucid, bitter, precise, terribly sad: the real-life equivalent of Wolff's acclaimed fiction." (Kirkus Reviews)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 04-27-13

Beautiful, unsentimental memoir of youth

One of my favorite memoirs of all time. IT was perfect in its pacing, its pitch. It was a beautiful, but unsentimental look at youth, poverty, family, and all the cracks and fissures that the world creates to swallow the dreams of youth. Wolff's language still rings with me. I find myself, going back and reading whole passages of 'This Boy's Life' just to drink the language and the rub against the energy and charge of Wolff's vitality. A good memoirist gets the reader to experience the artist's past life through his words, a great memoirist seduces the reader into a place where the reader suddenly recognizes the universal experiences in our shared lives.

There were parts of the book I felt like Tobias Wolff was not writing his history, but mine. The details of our lives might have been different, our stories might be adolescent antipoles, but I read Wolff and I think he has robbed me of my emotions, faked my youthful hope, slandered my stripling reputation, and squandered all of my schoolboy potential.

26 of 28 people found this review helpful

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Stunningly good

There is something amazing about this audibook. It's the right mix of narrator and author. I saw the film version of this a long time ago and thought it might prevent me from liking the book version. The book is even better. Tobias Wolff writes in a very spare, very brooding style. This book really did its job of transporting me to a different time and place in a situation I will never be in, myself. I also highly recommend "our Story Begins," by the same author. That was what got me interested in this book, and I thought those short stories from 'Story Begins,' were great. It's a strange thing that people who write books like Twilight are famous and no one has heard of Tobias Wolff, who unquestionably creates art with what he does.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

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Great memoir story, solid performance

I loved this book and the narrator did a great job. As the title implies, it is the story of the author's childhood and adolescence from 1955 to about 1963 (10 to 18 years old). Wolff tells a great story and paints a vivid picture of the underbelly of mid-century All American life--a dark, poignant, tragicomic "Leave it to Beaver." The author, writing as a wiser, much more mature, introspective adult, reflects on the formative years he spent as an immature, naive, foolish boy who lacked direction, role models, and any sense of family and self. He offers clear and touching insights into his self-destructive childhood behavior and the despicable behavior of the adults around him. Still, I found it hard to like the boy or to have much sympathy for him because as soon as I started to like him and feel sorry for him, he'd do something rotten, criminal, or stupid. He is deeply flawed and is at least partially to blame for many of the problems in his life, but I did feel compassion for him and I was deeply interested in his story. Anyway, I don't think the author intended to gain readers' affection or sympathy with his hard-knocks story; I think he sought to come to terms with his past and to examine it with honest self-reflection. This memoir is a journey in which author and reader gain insight from self-examination and gain compassion and forgiveness for self and others.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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What's the point?

Nice story, well read, but the boy's life was not all that interesting. And in the end i was left thinking, why did i read this? No conclusion, nothing gained, nothing learned. Like watching water boil.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Kim
  • Spokane, WA, United States
  • 09-27-12

Yawn.....so boring

This is the perfect book to listen to in your sleep - so little happens that even if you miss 8 hours of it, you won't need to rewind to try and catch up in the morning. The narrator does a passable job considering what he had to work with - I can't really fault him for the lack of strong characters or story arc. The writing isn't horrible, its just not interesting. I only hung in there because I kept expecting some major event to save it at the last minute that would make the first 3/4 of the book worthwhile - by the time I figured out it wasn't coming I was a couple hours from finishing so I just stuck it out. If you are looking for something tame to help you relax, then go for it - otherwise, save your credit.

6 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • R
  • 10-08-12

Over-rated book

For some reason, this book is highly touted. I found the writing uninspired and the young protagonist at times very unlikable (as in when he's beating his dog). I understand cruelty begets cruelty, and this boy certainly dealt with too many harsh men in his life, but it is still hard to find sympathy for a young boy who's sadistic at times, even if he feels shame afterwards.

5 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Powerful memoir

Despite the fact memoirs are not usually my cup of tea, I found this one fascinating and touching.

Tobias Wolff doesn't need my praise. I am much looking forward to finding his novel "Old School" in the audible catalogoue.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Poor narration ruins book

Mistakenly purchased memoir NOT read by the author. The narration was too acty-y; ineptly tried to sound frightened, or naive or whatever sentiments the narrator believed the author was conveying. Just let the words do their job. You don't have to speak in a falsetto to sound like a 13-year-old girl (as the narrator did to sound like the author's step-sister). The narration ruined to book; couldn't finish listening. Too bad.

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One of my absolute favorites!

This book reminds me of my own much less troubled childhood. It makes me wonder how almost any young man can survive high school. He tells the story in an unflinching way; he has no trouble pointing out the he is not a hero. Well, most of us aren't.
But it is also, somehow impossibly, optimistic. A strange world weary optimism. Thank you Tobias!!

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*A Life Full of Abuse and Yet Optimism*

The story begins with 10 year old Tobias Wolfe and his mother, who is divorced from his father, living with another man. They leave his home because of abuse and move on down the road to greener pastures. Toby changes his name to Jack and this book tells of their adventures. Jack was certainly not a model child. He was very adept at lying, stealing, cussing and skipping school, getting in fights with other boys, and even forging checks. The only subject that interested him was writing. In an attempt to calm his rebel spirit, his mother sends Jack to live with a man who has proposed to her. This proves to be a mistake as the man is abusive to him. However, when questioned, Jack does not reveal these things to his mother and so she gets married again. Both she and Jack are unhappy. It takes them several years to escape this relationship. Through it all Jack entertains the idea of going to prep school and to college, even though he has never been a good student. He manages to get accepted, and to accomplish his goals. Always an optimist Jack succeeded where most would have failed.

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