Found the book thanks to an old Harriet Gilbert's podcast. Isn't she great? I've found so many books from her BBC shows, either A Good Read or World Book Club. Love her voice and how she digs up interesting points from a book, writer or her guests. She always managed to bring up something I've not noticed in my own reading. (Perhaps it only shows what a sloppy reader I am :D )
Anyhow, a book that snuff around famous authors (Robert Frost, Ayn Rand and Papa Hemingway), of course it would practically jump to my hand.
It's also about boy's boarding school, which I have a soft spot ever since I read Stalky & Co. Also, remember Skippy Dies? There's just something about reading those boys cooped up and tumble around like puppies. Well, granted, Stalky is no puppy, more like lean young wolf. But there's something vulnerable about them that just wring my heart. Is there any counterpart book in girl boarding school? I can only remember The Lake of Dead Languages; of course I've read dozens of Blyton's; but it's just different though it did make me fall in love with boarding school story in general.
So, these boys are highly literate, or at least the story focused on the boys who are instead of the usual tech geek or sporty ones. I wonder if there's really such thing. I hope there is. Reading them getting heated up to win a private audience with authors warmed my heart. Those are the boys I'd like to know when I'm their age, or maybe to meet the adult ones now.
This is their story, potrait of a writer as a young man. Of dreaming to become a writer when you're still paying your dues to parents and basic education. Yearning to be out there, exercising their ultimate power as school magazine editor and basically biding their time. And then they have this chance to meet their heroes, to be in the face of a greatness, to be "anointed" as the protaganist put it.
The giant themselves, well, they're usually become a giant because we made them one. I mean, of course they're great writers, but they're still human. Frost with his mischievousness, Rand with her posturing and Hemingway with all his troubles. I love it that Wolff showed both of them, how they are in the eyes of the boys and showing them as person when they came, through the interview.
How about the school? From the beginning Wolff has shown that it's not a paradise. From the first chapter:
....you were steadily giving ground to a system of honors that valued nothing you hadn't done for yourself.
That was the idea, so deeply held it was never spoken; you breathed it inwith the smell of floor wax and wool and boys living close together in overheated rooms. Never spoken, so never challenged.
If that doesn't give you a shiver and an inkling of something not quite right, then I don't know what else can. It's wonderful that the last third or quarter of the book dwells on the school itself, its honor code, its flaws, also on being a teacher, how it really affect your way of life and thinking. Just a wonderful ending.
Last thought, the part with Rand and her protagonist Roarke, the great architect. I've known Rand, being an architecture student myself once upon a time, but haven't read her book. Her conviction of a design to be purely a one person genious vision or it isn't worth having at all.
I can't really agree with it and yet I yearned to be that person. And then there's a diary entry on Alan Bennett's Writing Home on how he had a working session with musicians where they could take suggestion gracefully and making the music so much better, and Bennett wonder why it's different in writing world, and I believe general art (painting, design,etc.) Something I still need to chew for a while.