Wolff, Tobias. "Hunters in the Snow".
The story is set in the state of Washington, probably in the author’s present. It follows the hunting trip of three friends, married adult men with families, whose mutual relationships are re-examined and redefined as a result of an accident that happens to them.
Tub waits for Kenny and Frank for an hour in the falling snow. When he finally sees Kenny’s truck coming, the vehicle manoeuvres on the icy road so that it almost overruns him. It is Kenny’s idea of humour. Tub is a fat, heavy man who claims that a problem with his glands is responsible for his weight. Kenny delights in making fun of him. Kenny is a rough, insensitive person whose jokes are sometimes quite cruel. Frank is a rather neutral, inoffensive fellow who does not take sides in the conflicts between Kenny and Tub, though Kenny often offends him, too.
The men park the truck and go looking for deer tracks along the creek. Kenny and Frank walk on one side of the creek, Tub walks on the other bank. He has problems with the snow because the frozen crust collapses under his weight. He soon stops looking for traces and only tries to keep up the pace with his friends. They find no sign of deer and start returning in the trail that Tub has broken along his bank. They find his footsteps crossing deer tracks that he did not notice.
The tracks continue over a fence with a no-hunting sign on it. They return to the truck to drive to the owner of the land and ask him for permission. Tub stays behind the other two and eats a big snack. The truck starts moving when he comes to it and Tub must run after it. He manages to climb on the bed of the truck and spends the ride exposed to the chilly wind. They receive the permission at an old farmhouse but they finally lose the deer tracks.
On their way back to the truck, Kenny starts a game. He points out an object that he hates and fires at it. When they approach the farmhouse, Kenny shoots an old dog bound at the barn in between his eyes. He continues to announce that he hates Tub, but Tub shoots from his waist and hits Kenny in his stomach. Tub and Frank try to call an ambulance from the house but all the ambulances are out and the nearest hospital is fifty miles away. They must get there Kenny themselves. They write down complicated directions for a shortcut.
Tub and Frank make an improvised stretcher and carry Kenny to the truck. Tub slips and drops the stretcher so that Kenny tumbles out and rolls down the slope. Frank scolds him and touches the painful topic of his weight. Tub loses his nerves, grabs Frank and starts shaking him and warning him not to make fun of him again. Later in the truck, Frank apologizes and adds that he would do the same to Kenny if he were in Tub’s boots. The heating in the car does not work and wind blows into the cabin through a broken window. They must stop to warm themselves in a tavern at the road.
Kenny remains in the bed of the truck while the other two are in the tavern. Frank intimates to Tub that he is going to leave his wife Nancy. He fell madly in love with Roxanne Brewer, a fifteen-year-old baby-sitter. Tub is at first surprised but he assures Frank that he does not think anything bad about him. He is his friend, which means that he is always on his side, no matter what happens. Frank appreciates it.
Kenny forgot the directions for the shortcut back in the farmhouse. Frank only responds to this that he remembers the directions well. It is now up to Tub to tell Frank his secret. He confesses that he himself is responsible for his weight as there is nothing wrong with his glands at all. Nobody knows it, not even his wife Alice. He does not mind being fat but he hates leading a double life, pretending that he is on diet but overeating himself secretly. This being their second stop for warming up, Frank leads Tub to the eating place and orders four dishes of pancakes. He tells Tub to eat and watches him doing so.
Back in the truck, Tub tells Frank what he learned from the farmer. It was the farmer who told Kenny to shoot the dog because the creature was too old and he was too tender-hearted to kill it himself. The men keep on driving to the hospital, not knowing that they took a wrong turn a long way back.
The story deals with the world of men and with characteristically male issues against the very masculine background of a hunting trip. It examines the various aspects of male friendships which may look superficial, perhaps, on the surface, but which may also prove to be a strong source of mutual support and sympathy in moments of crisis.
This is best manifested in the relationship between Frank and Tub. They do not look much like good friends in the beginning, but as the story progresses, they come closer to each other and finally prove that they are able to accept their friend as he is. Tub does not criticize Frank when he wants to abandon his faithful wife for a young girl and in turn Frank shows that he does not mind Tub’s gorging on food.
Kenny, on the other hand, may have gone too far in his behaviour to Tub and Frank, it seems almost as if the latter two thought that Kenny got what he deserved when he was shot. This impression is also reinforced by the stops that the two take on their way to the hospital.
The story is often thought to be inspired by the painting of the same title made by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in 1565. What the author says about the story is this: ‘I began this story as an act of recognition of the violence I grew up with, and that dominated my life for some years. By design it was to be a dark, sober piece, but it got away from me and made me laugh.’
AuthorWolff, Tobias. (b. 1945).
Full Title"Hunters in the Snow".
First PublishedIn: In the Garden of the North American Martyrs. NY: Ecco, 1981.
Wolff, Tobias. ‘Hunters in the Snow’. The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. 621-35.