November 04, 1985 12:00 PM

by Tobias Wolff

Maybe it’s just plain coincidence, but it certainly does seem appropriate that so many talented short-story writers have come along just in time for the era of microwave ovens and MTV, with its mania for speed, brief takes and sometimes bewildering flash. Wolff, whose work appears in such publications as the Atlantic, TriQuarterly and the Missouri Review, fits right in. His title for this collection comes from the oversea Gl’s expression for the United States—”the world”—and a number of the characters in these stories are veterans. Almost all of them are alienated, too, most strikingly in The Rich Brother, in which two brothers, one prosperous and one shiftless, try painfully to reach some kind of accommodation. In Desert Breakdown, a recently mustered out soldier considers whether or not to leave his pregnant wife and infant son stranded in an isolated gas station while he goes off to start a new life. He muses that he has been deceived, not by his wife “but by everyone who had ever been married and knew the truth about it and went on acting as if it were something good.” A couple of the stories are so brief as to seem almost subliminal. And in his narrative passages Wolff sometimes lapses into the kind of language that might be more apt for one of his characters—”He turned around and told Mark to pop some more frosties.” But Wolff creates his moods efficiently, and the people in his stories come to life almost instantly. There’s often a residual feeling of having come to know someone interesting, even if it’s someone who is so bitter you don’t want to see him again. (Houghton Mifflin, $15.95)

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