Commentary by Karen Bernardo
Tobias Wolff’s ‘Hunters in the Snow’ is a fascinating study in self-absorption. Three friends, Frank, Kenny, and Tub, have arranged to go hunting together—something they apparently do habitually. As they ride together in Kenny’s truck, we learn about them. Kenny taunts Tub about his weight and Frank about his illicit affair with a fifteen-year-old girl. Frank doesn’t care about his wife, and is in denial about his lust. Tub is self-conscious about his weight, and is in denial about his gluttony. And Kenny just doesn’t care about anybody or anything; he nearly runs over Tub as he shows off his reckless driving skills, and he shoots a fencepost, a tree, and a barking dog just because they’re there.
Tub, the most sensitive of the three, is shocked. “What did he ever do to you?” Tub asks. “He was just barking.” Kenny indicates that Tub might be next, and Tub doesn’t wait to find out; he fires at Kenny, hitting him in the stomach. For the remainder of the narrative, Frank treats Kenny with a jovial callousness (as he rolls Kenny onto a homemade stretcher, he says “Ha ha ... That’s the spirit. Get ready, set... over you go”) and Tub seems intent on not thinking about Kenny at all.
They set off for the hospital fifty miles away. But there’s a hole in the truck’s windshield, and they’ve barely gotten started on their journey before Frank and Tub decide to stop at a tavern to get warm. Oblivious to the fact that Kenny, bleeding and possibly dying in the back of the truck, certainly isn’t warm, Frank and Tub order coffee, and Frank confides the details of his affair with the babysitter. They’re barely back in the truck when they decide to stop again, and Tub confides that his problem isn’t really glandular; he just eats too much. Frank, a big believer in self-indulgence, orders Tub four platters of pancakes and watch until Tub has licked the plates clean.
But the most chilling part of this thoroughly chilling story may be the last few lines. Kenny says confidently that he’s going to the hospital, but Wolff says “...He was wrong. They had taken a different turn a long way back.” The different turn they had taken is away from being human beings, and toward being no better than animals.
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