In our hurried, impatient world where everything happens so quickly, short stories can easily become the preferred type of fictional reading. Newspaper and magazine articles, while easy to get through in one sitting, are typically non-fiction in manner and are used to seek out information. Reading for the pure enjoyment of it is something quite different. But who has time anymore? Short stories, or collections of them, rather, fit right into today’s busy lifestyle. One can pick up a book, quickly get through a short piece of fiction and get back to rushing off to school or getting ready for that important job interview. There is something about sitting down to read that makes one take time out to just relax and breathe.  

For consideration, “In the Garden of the North American Martyrs,” by Tobias Wolff is a collection of twelve short stories. The book was first published in 1976 by Harper Collins and immediately received favorable reviews from the San Francisco Chronicle and the Chicago Tribune, among others.  

Wolff takes readers on a trip through the ordinary to put on display the need of all humans for companionship and affirmation. Each story deals with a relationship of some sort, examining the interactions in an amusingly clumsy way. While the stories are more than forty years old, the insights they lend are timeless. Wolff colors his narratives with descriptive language which colorizes both the settings and the characters involved. In one story titled “Smokers,” Wolff writes, “Eugene made himself known around school. You did not wear belted jackets at Choate, or white buck shoes. Certainly you did not wear Alpine hats with feathers stuck in the brim. Eugene wore all three.”  

In “North American Martyrs,” Wolff succeeds in allowing his characters to scrutinize the people around them and how they interact. Each ultimately asks the question: “Are we doing this right?”  It’s a question most of us real-life characters ask all the time.