Faith’n’Fiction Roundtable: In the Garden of the North American Martyrs by Tobias Wolff

For Faith’n’Fiction Saturday this week, I participated in a round table discussion with several other bloggers about: In The Garden Of The North American Martyrs: Stories by Tobias Wolff (Ecco, a HarperCollins imprint, 1981), 192 pages

Brief book summary

In the Garden of the North American Martyrs is a collection of short stories. The brief volume consists of stories with disparate settings and characters, but after letting the book sit in my mind for awhile, they melded quite nicely together.

I thought the writing was brilliant, but I didn’t fall in love with the stories or the — incredibly clearly drawn — characters while reading.


And now a small part of the discussion, which is spread out over the blogs of all the participants, divided topically. I present you a discussion on tone and content of the stories, discussion on “Face to Face”:

Hannah: Overall, I thought the writing was excellent, superb even. I was struck by how much they felt like man stories, though. I don’t usually think this way, but the collection as a whole seemed very manly.

Amy: You know you bring up an interesting point. I also felt very aware of gender as I was reading, and while there were a couple of stories told from the point of view of a woman, it did seem that many of the stories focused on how things related to the men in the story, who were in fact most often the characters.

I’m curious about all of your thoughts on the story, “Face to Face” This story annoyed me, because Robert essentially was a creep from the start, ends up pretty much raping Virginia, and while she ends things with him, she does so with pity for him. It’s not that I think this is an unlikely scenario, it’s just that it was very uncomfortable to read, and it bothered me that while yes something was clearly wrong with Robert, the women in his life called him, “Poor Robert.” I’m not exactly sure what this is meant to say about the nature of women or even people for this matter.

Hannah: I agree, Amy, that “Face to Face” was uncomfortable to read. It certainly wasn’t the only awkward one, though, in terms of content.

I thought “In the Garden of the North American Martyrs” was an interesting look at gender roles — but moreso at self-perception, introspection. This story made me think. Another peep inside academia, too.

Pete: In fact, I greatly enjoyed the book even when I didn’t understand it. As someone else mentioned, the short about the woman and the man dating was intensely disturbing, in part because of the man’s ‘rape’ and other behavior, and in part because of the woman’s reaction to it. It scares me that there are probably actual relationships in the world that are just that mis-guided. There was a moment at the end of that story, though, that was my favorite part of the entire collection. She tells the man that the relationship isn’t going to work and there’s this amazing moment were the writer says that she sees him choose to be alone for the rest of his life. I thought that was sad and beautifully done.

Visit the other participants in this month’s roundtable

My Friend Amy: Overview
The Quirky Redhead: The stories we liked best and the ones we didn’t
Strange Culture: The Coen Brothers and thoughts on “Smokers”
The Fiddler’s Gun: The themes and where was the light? (by the way I really encourage you go to and weigh in on whether or not books need “light”)
Stuck-In-A-Book: About short stories
Rebelling Against Indifference: The title and how the stories worked as a collection


This book is on the Image Journal list, which I’m reading my way through. In some ways it seems very different than the rest of the books on the list.

I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

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5 responses to “Faith’n’Fiction Roundtable: In the Garden of the North American Martyrs by Tobias Wolff

  1. In what ways do you feel it’s different? Thanks again for you participation…you’ll be missed next month as a I dive into the world of sci-fi!

    • Well, most of the others I’ve read — hm.

      I was going to say the rest were less brutal. But Black Robe was pretty brutal. I was going to say less crass, but Cloudstreet was quite crass. I was going to say they had more light, but I’m not sure that’s true, either. So I guess I can’t explain it too well. :/

  2. Really glad I was able to participate in this discussion. The book was quite uncomfortable at times…well, actually most of the time. But once I got past that and listened to the rest of the discussions, I actually grasped the concept of the stories so much more than if I had read it on my own.

  3. Pingback: Faith’n’Fiction Roundtable: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger « Word Lily

  4. Pingback: Words from my reading « Word Lily

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