Short Story Review “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff

Intro

“Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff is another fantastic short story. It’s a favorite among literary professors. Wolff does a lot in a few amount of words.

Background of the Author

Tobias Wolff is an American writer. Wolff was born June 19, 1945 in Birmingham, AL.

Wolff grew up in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington State. He attended the prestigious “The Hill School,” a private boarding school in Pennsylvania. Wolff wrote about his time there in the semi-autobiographical novel “Old School.”

Wolff served in Vietnam as a member of the Special Forces (Green Berets). He wrote about his life two wonderful and powerful memoirs, “This Boy’s Life” and “In Pharaoh’s Army.”

Snapshot: An unpleasant book critic named Anders is at a bank during a robbery. He gets shot in the brain. In Ander’s dying seconds he sees a perfect memory of a childhood baseball game.

Summary

Anders is an offensive book critic. He shows no redeeming qualities in the story. He is dislikes he comes into contact with. Anders is rude to the bank teller and makes snide comments to people waiting in line.

Suddenly there is a shift in action. The bank is being robbed. He insults the robbers. One of them shoots him in the head.

Wolff describes the damage being done to the brain by the bullet. Wolff describes a number of things that Anders might have recalled, but doesn’t. An unhappy marriage, how he was mean to his loving kids, and his inability to find any happiness in his life despite have lived a life of privilege.

Ander’s last nanosecond before death his memory jumps back to his childhood. It is an episode in his life of no real consequence.

He replays the scene of a pickup baseball game on a hot, perfect summer afternoon. Anders is getting ready to play a ballgame. There is a new boy joining them, a friend’s cousin from Mississippi.

Shortstop,” the boy says. “Short’s the best position they is.” Anders turns and looks at him. He wants to hear Coyle’s cousin repeat what he’s just said, but he knows better than to ask. The others will think he’s being a jerk, ragging the kid for his grammar. But that isn’t it, not at all—it’s that Anders is strangely roused, elated, by those final two words, their pure unexpectedness and their music. He takes the field in a trance, repeating them to himself.

In two simple, ungrammatical words is all that Anders remembers- “They is. They is.” We learn even the most miserable man was once a young boy, full of wonder.

Analysis

“Bullet in the Brain” is the perfect imperfect short story. It’s very short, less than 2,000 words. Wolff violates a lot of the rules of craft in this story.

It begins with a comic tone. It shifts dramatically when the bank is robbed and Anders is shot.

Reading about Anders’ final memory makes you view his character in a different way. Only at the end of the story, and the end of Anders’ life do we see the humanizing character of Anders.

Anders is the only name we get. We learn about more about him only the last part of the story through the narrator telling us about several rough details of his life.

The story is told in a third person point-of-view. The entire story takes place in the lobby of a bank and in Anders’ last memory.

The story is savage, simple and brilliant. Wolff is a master at keeping us in suspense until the very end.

Book Review: “Homage to Catalonia” by George Orwell

Intro

Snapshot: British writer George Orwell goes to Spain to fight with the Loyalists/Republicans against the Nationalists led General Francisco Franco. Orwell sees little combat but is wounded. Orwell describes the political situation in Spain and Europe two years before World War II.

“Homage to Catalonia” by George Orwell is a fun and fascinating book.

George Orwell

George Orwell was an English novelist, journalist and social critic. He is famous for his two best novels “Animal Farm” and “1984.” George Orwell was the pen name of Eric Blair. Orwell was born on June 25, 1903 in India. His father was a middle-level civil servant.

A year after his birth, his mother brought him home to England. In 1911, he was sent to boarding school at Eton. After Eton, his family didn’t have the money for a university education.

Orwell spent the next five years in Burma as part of the Imperial Police Force. In 1927, he returned to England, intent on becoming a writer. Orwell lived meekly among the poor. He published a few books with little success. In June 1936, he married Eileen O’Shaughnessy.

In 1936, he traveled to Spain. He joined a group fighting against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. His adventures in Spain form the basis of “Homage to Catalonia.”

In 1945, he wrote “Animal Farm”. The book was anti-Soviet satire in a pastoral setting on a farm with animals.   In 1949, he published his masterwork of “1984.” It’s a chilling glimpse into a world where the government controls our lives.

Orwell died on January 21, 1950 in a London hospital from tuberculosis.

Background

Elections in 1931 made Spain a republic. The King left Spain and the Second Spanish Republic was established.

The Liberal Party came to power. Women gained the right to vote and the power of the Catholic Church was diminished. The wealthy, the Church and other conservative groups rallied against the newly elected government.

Finally, members of the army rebelled. The “Juntos”, a group of rebel generals, named Francisco Franco, as head of state. From Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy came money, more than 50,000 troops and equipment in support of the Rebels.

Civil War

The Spanish Civil War was from July 1936 to April, 1939. The Spanish Civil War was a dress rehearsal for World War II. German soldiers fighting in Spain refined their tactics and plans later for the invasions of Poland, France and Russia.

Volunteers from all over the world surged into Spain to aid the ailing Republic in its fight against Fascism. Among the volunteers were more than 3,300 Americans. Many sacrificed their lives.

The American volunteers made-up the 15th International (Lincoln) Brigade of the Spanish Republican Army. Their aim was to stop Hitler and Mussolini from using Spain as a springboard for their invasion across Europe.

Oliver Law, an African- American, communist, was selected by a committee of three white officers to lead the brigade. Law was the first African-American commander to lead an integrated military force in the history of the United States. Law was killed in the fighting.

Summary

In late 1936, Orwell went to Spain to cover the war as a journalist. He got caught up in the revolutionary spirit. He joined a Republican militia. He fought in Northwest Spain in the Basque region of Catalonia.

He spent three months in the trenches at the front. He saw little combat. He was mostly bored, hungry and exhausted.

Orwell went on leave. He went to Barcelona to see his wife. In Barcelona, fighting breaks out between rival Republican groups.

Orwell returned to the front. He was shot in the throat and arm. He was evacuated to a hospital. He partially recovers.

The group he was fighting with (POUM) is suppressed. Members were arrested, jailed and sometimes killed.

Orwell, his wife, and a few comrades escaped to France. He returned to England. Orwell wrote the book in 1938, before the war has ended.

Analysis

“Homage to Catalonia” is written with a first-person, limited, point of view. Orwell is candid and straightforward about his wartime experience. You get the feeling, “he has been there and done that.”

His writing is enjoyable and engaging. Orwell uses imagery and themes throughout the memoir. Short words and phrases are used as a straightforward as possible.

He uses lots and lots of detail to paint an image in your head the scene he is describing. The book is written in standard journalistic prose. Facts, scenes and events are presented in a professional manner. Often times you feel like you’re listening to a war story from a buddy at a bar over a beer.

Orwell presents the political situation in Spain. He gives you his perspective on-the-ground in Spain fighting against the Fascists.

Impression

I really enjoyed this book. It was an excellent introduction to Orwell.

George Orwell the man, fascinates me. He is a complex mass of confusions.

He is pro-English, but anti-establishment. He is a proud graduate of Eton College, where the English ruling class sends their sons to school, but he is anti-authoritarian.

Orwell loves the idea of equality, but is sentimental and nostalgic about the class system in England. He was a socialist who was an anti-communist and anti-fascist.  He was anti-war but pro the Second World War.

There seems to be a disconnect between the man of Eric Blair and the writer George Orwell. He is a brilliant writer.