There are many people whose lives are an autobiography waiting to be written. The trouble is that not many of them have the talent to write it.
Thankfully, Tobias Wolff is one of the rare exceptions and This Boy’s Life, a memoir of his childhood in redneck America, does justice to the fascinating raw material.
It reads like a novel, except the fact that it's true gives the story an added piquancy.
Set in the mid-Fifties, the story is really one of unrealised (and unrealistic) dreams - young Toby (or Jack as he calls himself after his favourite author Jack London) and his mother flee Florida and an unhappy marriage for Utah, with a plan to make their fortune mining uranium.
The reality is, of course, more mundane – short of money, the mother reluctantly agrees to marry Dwight Hansen, who turns out be another in a line of abusive men, and living in the prosaically named Concrete, a hick town north of Seattle.
Bullied at home by Dwight, Toby/Jack's behaviour deteriorates as he starts getting into fights (ironically the only time Dwight shows any interest in him is when he teaches him how to fight) and he retreats into his own imagination.
But in keeping with the rest of the story, the one time he gets together the money to run away, he loses it all gambling with some older kids.
Beautifully written, this is a truly engaging story that deserves to be read.