I thorughly adored this book. Old School is such a lovely story and its likeable at so many levels that I know its one of those novels that you will want to re-read several times.
The protagonist of this story is 16 something boy studying in one of what appears to be America’s private boarding school. The story is narrated in first person by him and is basically the story of his last year at school. Now there are lot of cliches that Tobias Wolff could have gone with when he wrote this book – class differences at school, bossy professors, benevolent professors, buried secrets, scandalos affairs, scholarships won and lost, summmer affairs, expulsions …and so on. But instead he chose a completely different way of storytelling , imbibing all of the above, but in such unique and engaging way that every page was a delight. Wolff uses literature as the main theme for this coming of age story. Guaranteed to delight to any booklover,Old School is a tribute to the art of reading and writing.
Our hero is a scholarship student and is of Jewish origins – two facts he tries to hide as he attempts to fit in. He is on the editorial board of the prestigious school paper Troubadour and is part of the literary elite in the school – the only kind of snobbery the school practices. One of the highlights of the senior year is the practice of inviting 3 renowoned authors. Senior year students are invited to submit their work for review by the visiting writer. The writer picks the favorite work and the student then gets the chance to have a rendezvous with the writer himself.
These events define the main parts of the novel, each describing how the various students and our narrator in particular prepares for the visit of three eminent writers – Robert Frost , Ayn Rand and Ernest Hemingway.
Wolff was spot on the first reaction of an impressionable mind on reading “The Fountainhead”. I remember the first time I read ‘The Fountainhead” and how, just like our hero, I looked down at the whole world with contempt for the next 6 months. I felt so above it all. It has taken some years to probably imbibe some of the theories of objectivism and to realize how right and wrong Ayn Rand was in some of her views – though the world she created were too extreme to be real.Wolff is obviously not a fan of Ayn Rand. I do not know if he has ever met her but his presentation of Ayn Rand was simply a caricature. Although, it was funny in its own way.
When our speaker’s literary hero , Ernest Hemingway, is scheduled to arrive as the third and last author for the year, the school goes in a writing frenzy. It is a big deal. It’s at this stage where the narrative climaxes and the story takes an unexpected turn.
The writing is fluid and easy to read. The book is heavily marked with references to literature , especially Hemingway. I, unfortunately , have read very little Hemingway and at sometime just did not get these pointers. However , it made me want to read more of him. There are also elements of parody, especially in the pieces of writing submitted by the students. These parodies are inevitable – every student tries to become the writer he is trying to please !
If you if have always wanted to write, then do read this.