“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.
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.
“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.