Awake by Tobias Wolff, 2008
The magic trick:
Showing how one little late-night thought process can turn into a huge mental journey
The action – though action is an odd word choice – takes place all in Richard’s mind. He’s awake late at night while his girlfriend sleeps soundly next to him in bed. The story then is basically his train of thought as he tries to fall asleep. It’s a remarkable journey as the reader sees Richard lust for his girlfriend’s body at one moment only to lament her pudgy figure in the next. The reader sees Richard try to read literary classics so that he can be more attuned with her interests only to fret that her level of thought is too far above his, she’s too mature for him. He’s all over the map. By story’s end, he has decided they are doomed to fail and he no longer even feels the lust for physical contact he was obsessing over at the story’s outset. It’s an all-too-accurate picture of the intelligent but immature mind at work. And that’s quite a trick on Wolff’s part.
Soon enough she would see him clearly, and understand her mistake. He was already watching for signs of retreat: impatience, condescension, a certain weariness. He’d seen all this before, with the only other girl he’d been close to. Had Ana really not caught on yet? How could she not know? Was it just because he was handsome, and always ready?