Recently, I was at Grub Street’s Muse and the Marketplace writers’ conference here in Boston, and in one session we looked at Tobias Wolff‘s “Bullet in the Brain.” I was surprised at (1) how many people had not read the story–of a group of 30 people, I was one of maybe 5 who had, and (2) how amazing this story really is. So compressed and so focused: crystalline. Perfect for teaching yourself, or others: you can take it apart, sentence by sentence, and figure out why each word is there and exactly how the story is working. And yet, even after careful dissection, it loses none of its power: that ending has to be one of the best in the history of short fiction, so expansive and totally unexpected yet totally right. I am stunned by the last two paragraphs every time.
Very few stories are must-reads, for me, but this is one of them. If you haven’t read it, for god’s sake, get it and read it now.