Tobias Wolff’s short story, “Hunters in the Snow”
This is the third short story in my “Deal Me In!” reading project for 2011. This morning I drew the six of diamonds from my deck of cards, and then checked my list to see which story that meant I would treat myself to today. I was taken a little by surprise in that I drew a card for a story I don’t currently own a copy of. Dang! I had hoped for a little more time to fully stock/(stack?) my deck, but not to worry, I had my Nook and Nook App for the iPad, and I can buy practically any book from either of these in a matter of moments. But alas, I searched on Barnes&Noble.com assuming I’d find a collection that includes it, but nothing. Then I thought, “well, I’ll just stop in Borders when I’m downtown later today,” but also wondered if they’d even have it. So I did a little research on-line and what do I come across but a free copy(!) It’s at http://www.classicshorts.com/stories/huntsnow.html If you’d like to read it too.
It’s only just under 6,000 words so I “read it immediately.” It’s an odd story, in which several things aren’t immediately revealed. There are three main characters, Kenny, Frank, and Tub. None are really described physically, although Tub is confirmed to be overweight first by context and later by dialogue. The story begins with Tub waiting (for over an hour, in the cold) at the side of the street form his friends to pick him up so they can go hunting. Without the descriptions, I at first thought Tub was a youth (I mean aren’t young people more often “waiting on a ride” than adults?) Later his troubles getting across/through a barbed wire fence and his struggles to keep up with his companions confirmed for me that he was supposed to be overweight. (As if his very name couldn’t have clued me in – duh! Real sharp there, Jay) Anyway they begin their hunt and an “accident” happens.
After Tub misses some obvious deer tracks (and is teased about that) the hunters encounter a “No Hunting” sign but decide to go to the owner of the land’s house and ask permission to hunt, which is then granted. As they begin, they are hounded by the owners very old dog and Kenny begins to act strangely. First, he eyes an old post and says, “I hate that post,” and promptly shoots it. Then he points to a tree and says “I hate that tree,” and shoots it too. Then, as the old dog increases his barking, he says, “I hate that dog,” and I’m thinking “no, come on, now,” but Bam! he shoots the dog dead too. (Now I’m mad.) The others protest – especially Tub, who says “what did that dog ever do to you?” at this point Kenny says to Tub, “And I hate YOU.” Tub is no idiot (well, maybe he IS a bit of an idiot) and “knows” what is coming next so shoots Kenny first in “self defense.”
Kenny protests that he “was only kidding around,” and is bleeding profusely from the abdomen. Kenny’s bullying of the others (naturally) ceases, and they carry him back to the truck and go back to the house of the farmer who owns the land they’re on to call an ambulance. None are available and the nearest hospital is fifty miles away. Tub “confesses” to the farmer that “our friend shot your dog,” but learns that the man had asked him to, since the dog was so old and the farmer couldn’t bring himself to do the deed himself. Kenny’s not having let his friends in on the knowledge of this request is apparently typical of his prankish behavior.
The story turns a little surreal at this point, as Frank and Tub seem to lack any real since of urgency about Kenny’s condition. They write down directions to the hospital
and set off with Kenny stowed away in the bed of the truck. It’s almost as though – with Kenny’s more powerful and overbearing personality removed – they no longer know how to act. Frank “confesses” that he is in love with his fifteen (but, soon to be sixteen – Frank knows the date and time down to the minute) year-old babysitter, while Tub confesses that he is “secret eater” – even though people think he’s dieting, he has food cached away everywhere (earlier, on the hunt, when the three eat together, he has a hard-boiled egg and some celery, but later when they are separated for awhile, he eats the two sandwiches and cookies that he also brought).
As they talk, they decide to stop at a roadhouse to warm up (the windshield of the truck has a hole in it which makes those in the cab just as cold as poor Kenny, who they nonchalantly leave bleeding in the bed of the truck while they go inside for coffee). Tub leaves the directions to the hospital behind when they go, but Frank thinks he remembers them. The story ends with Kenny, whose head is toward the front of the truck, watching the north star in the space between his feet in the back of the truck. The North Star is also the direction of the hospital. They took a wrong turn and are driving in the wrong direction…
Tobias Wolff was suggested to me by Chelle at http://www.theprairielibrary.com/
I can’t say that I fully understood the deeper meaning behind this story, but maybe some of my thoughts above are “close.” What about you? Have you read this story – or any others by Tobias Wolff? What were your thoughts and reactions?
Author Tobias Wolff