Margot Mifflin
November 01, 1996 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Night in Question

Current Status
In Season
Tobias Wolff
Fiction, Short Stories

We gave it an A

Tobias Wolff’s first story collection in a decade, The Night in Question, has the blunt impact of its piece de resistance, ”Bullet in the Brain.” Direct, compressed, and unflinching, these tales of emotional awakenings, often triggered by a resonant phrase or a casual epiphany, range from laugh-out-loud funny to mind-bendingly sad. Wolff is both an exquisite stylist and a great storyteller: In ”Mortals” a faked obituary backfires on both its perpetrator and its author; in ”The Other Miller” a soldier is relieved of duty when his mother is mistakenly reported dead, and he milks the mix-up for all it’s worth. Wolff’s tightly wound tales often spring open when his characters surrender, in almost visionary moments of abandon, to forbidden pleasure or certain disaster. Except for a single hollow effort, about lesbian lovers, where the author is clearly out of his element, contemporary short fiction doesn’t get much better than this. A

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