The Night in Question

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Tobias Wolff is known for his long fiction and autobiographies, set in the deadly fields of Vietnam and driven by intergenerational conflict. THE NIGHT IN QUESTION, his second collection of short stories, embraces similar settings as it explores aspects of loyalty and betrayal.

The bonds of loyalty to family and friends are crucial. In “Powder,” a boy must reconcile his foresight with his father’s reckless brinkmanship. The son accepts the danger of a hair-raising ride down a snowcovered mountain and the pain of family breakup as the price for a peak experience. The title story presents Frances and Frank Junior, siblings whose lives are deformed by now dead Frank Senior’s abuse of his son and Frances’ attempts to protect him. When Frank Junior repeats a sermon about a father’s choice to save a trainload of strangers while killing his son, a parallel to the story of Jesus, Frances pushes him to reject the moral and choose the loved individual above the many, as she has done for him, even at the expense of rejecting God. In “Casualty,” Biddy wrestles with loyalty to Ryan, a “wise guy,” goaded into accepting dangerous assignments in Vietnam. Must Biddy rush into harm’s way to protect him? Can he recognize his relief at Ryan’s death?

Wolff’s characters are memorable, his stories well plotted. They offer new readers an introduction to his universe and loyal fans an excuse to revisit it.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCII, August, 1996, p. 1857.

Boston Globe. October 6, 1996, p. N15.

Denver Post. October 13, 1996, p. G11.

The Guardian. November 20, 1996, II, p. 4.

Library Journal. CXXI, September 1, 1996, p. 213.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. October 13, 1996, p. 2.

The New York Times Book Review. CI, November 3, 1996, p. 12.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, August 5, 1996, p. 428.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch. November 24, 1996, p. C5.

San Francisco Chronicle. October 13, 1996, p. REV3.