When the collection of which ‘‘In the Garden of the North American Martyrs’’ is the title story was published in 1981, it received almost universal critical praise. The twelve pieces in this collection included the first story Wolff ever published, ‘‘Smokers,’’ which had first appeared in Atlantic Monthly. In 1986 Bantam Books reissued six of the twelve stories in a single volume together with Wolff’s award-winning novella set on a Georgia Army base during the Vietnam War, The Barracks Thief.
Though Wolff published a second volume of short stories, Back in the World in 1985, his first volume remains a favorite with critics. Offering backhanded praise for In the Garden of the North American Martyrs while criticizing Wolff’s newest book, Russell Banks wrote in the New York Times Book Review that ‘‘this book is a considerable falling off for Mr. Wolff.’’ Writing in The Nation, reviewer Brain Kaplan has high praise for Wolff’s first collection, singling out the title story as an exceptional example of Wolff’s ability to ‘‘use words to test lives against accidental and selfselected conditions.’’
(The entire section is 179 words.)