First edition, signed on title-page. “It takes a childish or corrupt imagination to make symbols of other people,” Wolff write in this memoir. In the margin he adds: “and don’t we do it all the time?” Annotating a memoir compels the author not just to revisit his earlier prose, but an earlier self writing about an earlier self. Not surprisingly Wolff annotates the passage near the end where he is in the clothing store, staring at himself in the mirror (“There was a dash of swagger in his pose…”). “Good thing, too” he says in the margin, “he would have need of all the hope he could muster in the years to come.” There are more second thoughts about his life than about his prose, some of the memories are painful, others poignant. Alongside the passage where he describes life in West Seattle Wolff notes: “This description doesn’t begin to describe the disgrace of living in this hole.” After describing a menacing drive with Dwight, Wolff tells us “I still remember that ride upriver, alone with him—like being taken to prison.” Later, when her mother decides to return to this abusive stepfather Wolff says, “I still think that things had gone too far for her to change course—and she didn’t want me back in Seattle running wild again.” Wolff’s wry humor comes into evidence when he recalls the episode of his mother threatening the school vice-principal and suggesting she might hire a lawyer and sue. “Yes, Virginia, they had lawyers even then.” He is warm-hearted in his recollection of the helping hands he received, especially from clergy: “Today I recall with gratitude the kindness and understanding of the men and women of the Church who took me in hand. It could have been otherwise.”
WOLFF, Tobias (b. 1945). This Boy’s Life. A Memoir. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989. 8°. Original cloth-backed boards; dust-jacket.