Having pretty much despised Catcher in the Rye (much like Frank Portman’s protagonist in King Dork), I figured there had to be some book set in a New England boarding school that I would like. I found it in Tobias Wolff’s Old School.
No, Old School is not the book that formed the basis for the Will Ferrell film of the same name. Rather, Wolff’s story takes place around 1960 at an unnamed fancy prep school somewhere in New England and follows our narrator’s adventures there as he aspires to be a writer while hiding his Jewish heritage and lingering amongst his teachers and classmates as somewhat of an outsider. While I think the general view of this book was lukewarm (with some reviews lambasting Wolff for his decision to not use quotation marks), I really liked it. It was well-written and engaging, mixing adolescent angst with a bit of mystery.
The school our (unnamed) narrator attends is fixated on literature and regularly invites famous authors to visit, each time rewarding the winner of a writing competition with a private session with said author. The first author that visits during our story is Robert Frost. The second author is none other than the despicable Ayn Rand, and our narrator purchases a copy of The Fountainhead and becomes obsessed with her until he actually “meets” her during her visit, after which he realizes what a fruitcake she is. He next turns his attention toward Ernest Hemingway, the next author invited to visit, and dedicates himself to winning the right to enjoy some private time with Papa.
As all of this transpires, our narrator wrestles with a bit of an identity crisis and becomes determined to make a name for himself. Without spoiling anything, he does just that; how he does it and how his actions link to the deepest reaches of his school are quite surprising and are what made this such a great read for me.