Monday, January 13, 2014

This Boys Life by Tobias Wolff and The Duke of Deception by Geoffrey Wolff

In November, I listened to This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff, a memoir that appears on numerous key autobiography lists. Under a spell, I listened to this story every chance I got through a fairly busy week. Still, it was hard to understand. How could anyone live the way Tobias (who took on the name Jack for his adolescent years) and his mother did? I never found the clarity to write a review.

Now I have also read his brother Geoffrey Wolff's book The Duke of Deception: Memories of My Father. I have much more of the story now, as Tobias's story starts about halfway through Geoffrey's book. It helps me to learn about their mother's childhood, which was dominated by her strange father. I can see why she would later make such bad choices. It also helps to learn about their father's string of deceptions to see how Tobias could so calmly pull off deceptions of his own.

Geoffrey's story is itself a classic coming-of-age memoir with many points at which all hope for a better life could have been lost. I can not help but think his father could not have succeeded with his cons in the computer age, when his resumes and credit references would have been easier to check. Would his being caught have helped or hindered Geoffrey in the long run? How would Geoffrey and Tobias have faired under foster care?

Both books could be called miracle stories. Both boys escaped the bonds of their childhoods. Now I need to read further to see how they have fared as adults.

Wolff, Tobias. This Boys Life. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989. 288p. ISBN 0871132486.

Wolff, Geoffrey. The Duke of Deception: Memories of My Father. Random House, 1979. 275p. ISBN 0394410521.

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