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Tobias Wolff Examines Life's Pivotal Turns

In Tobias Wolff's new collection of short stories, Our Story Begins, a young farmworker goes out drinking and winds up in a shabby hotel with migrant workers.

Everyone is happily drunk — or so it seems — until one of the workers pulls out a gun and starts ranting, entirely in Spanish. The man gets angrier and angrier, and suddenly, in that room, the narrator realizes that he is in control of nothing:

"That room — once you enter it, you never really leave. You can forget you're there, you can go on as if you hold the reins, that the course of your life, yea even its length, will reflect the force of your character and the wisdom of your judgments. And then you hit an icy patch on a turn one sunny March day and the wheel in your hands becomes a joke and you no more than a spectator to your own dreamy slide toward the verge, and then you remember where you are."

The story turns on the young man's sudden understanding "that this sense of control that we assume from moment to moment and day to day is illusory," Wolff tells Steve Inskeep.

Wolff's stories center on the moments of epiphany that humans are constantly experiencing, if not fully recognizing.

"It's these little turns in life that are so important," says Wolff. "If you change the direction of your life by a little degree, years later you're going to end up in a very different direction than if you hadn't."

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