By Tobias Wolff
400 pages. Knopf.
Among the new pieces in Tobias Wolff's intensely pleasurable collection Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories (Knopf) is a brief, simple tale about a man, John, walking a dog. The dog, Victor, was John's wife's; now his wife is dead and walking him has fallen to John. Victor grieves for Grace, his lost owner, but on the walks he comes alive: "Grief could not deaden the scent of fallow deer and porcupine, of rabbits and rats and the little gray foxes that ate them." After an ominous encounter with a large, threatening dog, John imagines a strange dialogue in which Victor upbraids him for not loving Grace as much as he, Victor, has loved her. "I loved her with all my heart," John has Victor say. "You missed out on being forgiven," John replies. This story has so much of what has made Tobias Wolff one of the best story writers of his time: his irony and wit, his always present tenderness, his deep conscience (John is, through Victor, grieving too, and cataloging his sins), his willingness to hold on his tongue even the most bitter truths. This collection provides a clean, swift tour through Wolff's famous earlier stories ("In the Garden of the North American Martyrs," "Bullet in the Brain") and ends with ten new ones, each a more polished gem than the last. This is the work of a rare writer who understands that great stories do not seek finality and "closure" but something more accelerated than that—a kind of breathtaking expansion.