Thursday, April 17, 2008

"Bullet in the Brain" by Tobias Wolff

Source: New Yorker Fiction Podcast
Length: 19 min
Reader: T. Coraghessan Boyle

The story: Although I don't know the circumstances for the writing of "Bullet in the Brain", I could imagine that it began as a revenge fantasy against a critic who had panned Wolff's work. The story, in the beginning, is a harsh portrait of a book critic who has lost the joy of literature and instead sees cliches in every novel he reviews. The man is such an ass, in fact, that he can't help but smirk and heckle in the middle of a bank robbery, exactly when he should keep his mouth shut.

If this story was indeed first written as revenge against a critic, I can picture Wolff coming back to his draft and realizing that he had been unfair to the character he created. In the second part of the story, the plot takes a major turn and we get to see the humanity of the critic. This contrast of putting a comic figure into a serious situation makes the story both laugh-out-loud funny and deeply profound. If, like me, you've been bored with the navel-gazing path that contemporary short fiction has taken, this story is a welcome change.

Rating: 10/10

The reader: T.C. Boyle certainly has an enthusiasm for the story he's chosen. His appreciation for Wolff's language comes through in the vivid narration Boyle gives. He speaks with an easy amused air, as if he's expertly telling a well-rehearsed joke rather than reading words off the page. Boyle's voices are excellent, especially the Sopranos-worthy Jersey accent he voices for the robbers. The discussion at the end with New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman is enlightening; they talked about so many relevant topics that I almost didn't have anything to add in my review!

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