If ever you happen to find yourself in a Tobias Wolff story and one of the characters is carrying a gun – run. Any weapon in a Tobias Wolff story will eventually go off with devastating consequences.
In Hunters in the Snow, three friends: Frank, Kenny and Tub go on a hunting trip. Tub is always the butt of the jokes of the other two. He is overweight, and they are constantly ribbing him for it. Kenny is particularly malicious, when he and Frank go to pick up Tub for their trip, he mounts his pickup truck on the sidewalk and pretends he’s going to run him over.
The three are hunting for deer, but there doesn’t appear many about. In the end they find some fresh tracks that lead onto a farmer’s private property. Kenny is anxious to get the deer, so he decides they will go and ask the farmer permission to enter his land. As they approach the farm house, an old farm dog comes up and starts barking at them.
Kenny goes inside and speaks to the owner. He comes out with permission for the three of them to get the deer. They head out into the wooded area of the farm, and the old dog follows them. Kenny begins shooting at fence posts. He then turns around and shoots the dog. Tub and Frank think he’s reckless. Kenny than says he has a problem with Tub and acts as though he will shoot him too. Tub doesn’t think that he is joking and winds up shooting back. Kenny is hit, and falls down in the snow.
Going back to the farmhouse to call for an ambulance, Frank and Tub find that the farmer asked Kenny to kill the dog as it was sick and dying. They try to get help, but all the hospital’s ambulances are out; it will be faster for them to drive Kenny to the hospital themselves. The farmer gives them directions of how to reach it.
Frank and Tub set out with Kenny on a makeshift stretcher in the back of the pickup truck. The two start to bond in the cab, talking about their lives outside of the moment. They make Kenny keep repeating ‘I’m going to the hospital,’ so he won’t lose the mental battle and let himself slip away into death. Frank and Tub think they are following the directions to the hospital correctly, but this is where Tobias Wolff delivers a master stroke. I will write out the last few sentences of the story to illustrate how clever it is.
“’I’m going to the hospital’ Kenny said. But he was wrong. They had taken a different turn a long way back.”
As a technique, this is superb. The ability to provide the ending of the story in such a simple way, but it’s describing something that would take hours to happen.
Hunters in the Snow is a great story, the characters are interesting, especially the duality of the way that Kenny and Tub are meant to be friends, but Tub can genuinely believe Kenny would try to kill him.