‘In The Garden Of North American Martyrs’ by Tobias Wolff

wolff, tobias 1981a

In The Garden Of North American Martyrs by Tobias Wolff, 1981

The magic trick:

Writing the perfect ending

So often the stories I read for this blog don’t really end, they kind of dribble out like a leaky faucet. It’s as if having a twisty, turny plot that ends on a definitive point is somehow low-brow. And I understand that. I love those Chekhov stories that kind of float and hang in the air rather than striking a final note. But… there’s something to be said too for a story that is about something, a story that tells a story. “North American Martyrs” finds its way into both camps. It’s a story with plenty of plot that also manages literary conventions too (how about those birds?)

It is the ending that is the toughest part to land in a story that tries to be literary and plotty at the same time. It is the ending that is the most impressive part, to me, of “Martyrs.” It is natural and believable, funny and angry, and most of all, it connects all of the plot threads in one fell swoop. The perfect ending. And that’s quite a trick on Wolff’s part.

The selection:

Mary arrived at the committee room exactly on time for her interview, but the room was empty. Her book was on the table, along with a water pitcher and some glasses. She sat down and picked up the book. The binding cracked as she opened it. The pages were smooth, unread. Mary turned to the first chapter, which began, “It is generally believed that . . . “ How dull, she thought.


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