Writers of fiction like to say they ply their trade by telling lies, but Tobias Wolff really was a liar. He would not be where he is today if he hadn’t been. Terrorised by a violent stepfather, dependent for refuge on his floundering mother, he made up stories in order to survive. When it was necessary to fortify his inventions with facts, Wolff made an easy transition to forgery. As an adolescent in 1960, for example, he glimpsed an escape from domestic hell through a much sought-after scholarship to a Pennsylvania prep school. The authorities requested recommendations, naturally, so 15-year-old “Jack” (he had adopted the name in homage to Jack London) posted off a sheaf of testimonies to his academic, social and sporting prowess – all written by him – and was duly accepted for a coveted scholarship place at the Hill School, whose illustrious old boys included Edmund Wilson and General Patton. Wolff describes his time there as an “idyll”, which lasted just over two years before he was “flushed out” and expelled. After a short stretch at sea, where he suspected one of his crew mates of plotting to kill him, he joined the army and was trained… Read full this story
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