Tobias Wolff Our Story Begins.
Knopf, 400 pages, $26.95

Deep in the climate-controlled recesses of the Stanford University library is a book so rare that not a single Ivy League school has a copy. “Felton Collection,” says the card catalogue, followed by a vaguely threatening word: “Non-circulating.” It’s nothing too scandalous—just Ugly Rumours, a novel by Tobias Wolff published once in Britain, in 1975, and then disowned for all time. It’s never been listed under ALSO BY TOBIAS WOLFF, and it never will be.

I live at Stanford, like the book and its author, so I’ve had ample opportunity to peek into the foxed, brittle, and probably embarrassing juvenilia of a literary giant. But I don’t need to peek. I’m just glad it’s there, proof that it isn’t necessary to write a masterpiece on the first try, that literature...


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