BOOKS: Judging the Man He Was

Tobias Wolff recalls his service as a Green Beret in Vietnam

Near the end of this terse, mesmerizing memoir, Tobias Wolff describes sitting in a bar sometime in 1968 in Manhattan Beach, California, with a woman he would like to impress. His plans are thwarted by a couple of local drunks, familiar to him from past drop-ins, who interrupt the tete-a-tete and start talking about the war in Vietnam. Wolff, who has just finished a one-year tour of duty there, finds himself launched on an anecdote that he realizes as soon as he begins it will fail to achieve the effect he desires on his date or on anyone else. He plunges...

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