‘Awaiting Orders’ by Tobias Wolff

Wolff, Tobias 2005

Awaiting Orders by Tobias Wolff, 2005

The magic trick:

Making the protagonist curious and confused about his own words and actions throughout the story

Great story. The reader is always trying to analyze the characters, interpret their words and actions. That’s one of the great joys in literature. Well, in “Awaiting Orders,” Sergeant Morse is right there with us. He doesn’t really understand why he does the things he does either.

There are clues and suspicions. But mostly, he’s trying to figure out how he is supposed to act I this judgmental, restrictive world he’s found himself in – making the reader’s process of analysis all the more complicated and intriguing. And that’s quite a trick on Wolff’s part.

The selection:

“You’re tired,” he said.

The tenderness of his own voice surprised him, and her eyes blinked open as if she, too, were surprised. She looked at him with gratitude; and it came to Morse that she had called him back that night just for the reason she gave, because he had spoken kindly to her.

“I am tired,” she said. “I am that.”

“Look. Julianne. What do you need to tide you over?”

“Nothing. Forget all that stuff—I was just blowing off steam.”

“I’m not talking about charity, O.K.? Just a loan, that’s all.”

“We’ll be fine.”

“It’s not like there’s anyone waiting in line for it,” he said, and this was true. Morse’s father and older brother, finally catching on, had gone cold on him years ago. He’d remained close to his mother, but she died just after his return from Iraq. In his new will, Morse named as sole beneficiary the hospice where she’d spent her last weeks. To name Dixon seemed too sudden and meaningful and might draw unwelcome attention, and anyway Dixon had made some sharp investments and was well fixed.


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