I chose to read this novella because I’ve enjoyed other writings by Tobias Wolff,
namely Old School and This Boy’s Life. My copy has 101 pages.
The story gives a background picture of a teen-aged Philip whose parents have divorced.
His younger brother, Keith, can’t come to terms with the fact and he disappears after
Philip enlists in the army. His family has essentially disintegrated.
Philip goes to jump school and then is awaiting orders to be sent to Vietnam. Two other soldiers are new to the company and the three of them are considered outsiders. Until the close of the book, these three characters are the nub of the plot.
During the stretch of waiting, some thefts occur within the barracks. We learn not only
who is the thief, but in a twist of narrative, Wolff turns the point of view of telling to the
thief himself. We may not condone the thefts, but can more easily understand the reason.
The book is not a cozy story, but more a tale of the loneliness of these three men in the
midst of an army of soldiers.
Wolff is an engaging writer — this book won the Pen/Faulkner Award in 1985 (Beating a
favorite of mine: Stones for Iberra by Harriett Doerr . . .) Wolff is a great writer, but if I were to compare others I’ve read by this author, Old School and This Boy’s Life, I’d prefer them over The Barracks Thief.
Three button review.