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San Miguel by T.C. Boyle

San Miguel (original 2012; edition 2012)

by T.C. Boyle

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3722629,102 (3.78)28
Title:San Miguel
Authors:T.C. Boyle
Info:Viking Adult (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 384 pages
Collections:Your library, US fiction/literature
Tags:US fiction/literature, tbr

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San Miguel by T. C. Boyle (2012)


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Three women, three experiences, one island: San Miguel. Told from the perspectives of Marantha "Minnie" Waters, a consumptive in the 1880s; her daughter Edith, who wants to go back to living on the mainland and dreams of being an actress; and a librarian lately married Elise who comes to the island in the 1930s with her husband, San Miguel explores life at its most isolated and, for much of the book, its most bleak.

This book, I gather, is much different from T.C. Boyle's sometimes humorous work and short stories. It's historical fiction that, from what I looked up, sticks pretty close to the record, while exploring the isolation and experiences that three women on one of the California Channel Islands may have felt when they picked up everything and moved. Marantha and Edith's sections are incredibly desolate and hard to read. Elise is joyful in comparison, though she too is not without suffering. I would have rather the book was all about her, and it's mainly because of her and the lyrically descriptive writing that I'm rating the book as high as I am. ( )
  bell7 | Dec 21, 2016 |
Just wonderful. I will read just about anything he writes. I could have used a little more about Edith but I always like the bad girls. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
In the end I quite liked it. But it did take a while to warm to it — that didn't happen until about a quarter of the way through.
I didn’t really appreciate until much further along that so much of it is based on historical events on the island of San Miguel, one of the Channel Islands across from Santa Barbara in California. Windy, often fogbound, cold, wet and isolated, it was a harsh environment for the sheep ranching family that tried to make a go of it in the late 1800s. They are the subject of the first part of the book.
Marantha Waters was a consumptive who thought she was escaping city air to breathe in the healing fresh Pacific air, so she hopefully accompanied her second husband with their adopted teenage daughter to their new adventure on the island. The book opens with “She was coughing, always coughing, and sometimes she coughed up blood. The blood came in a fine spray, plucked from the fibers of her lungs and pumped full of air as if it were perfume in an atomizer.” They are taking over the sheep ranching duties from another family. There are no other families on the island, only them and some ranch hands, the hired help. Nothing has prepared them for how hard their life will be — the decrepit shack that will be their home, the poor diet rich only in mutton and seafood, the exhausting work required just to eke out a subsistence living. They are not prepared for how destructive the isolation can be. This would be hard enough for a fit person to deal with, but Marantha is in no shape for it with her frequent relapses of TB.

The second part of the book is about another lone family living on the island 40 years later, through the Depression and into the Second World War. The characters are more sharply defined here than those of the first family; this part of the book was a lot more enjoyable and interesting. It is here that I finally figured out that these stories are steeped in fact. The “Swiss Family Lester” was profiled in Life Magazine back in 1940. http://books.google.ca/books?id=xj8EAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA94&lpg=PA94&dq=swi... family lester&source=bl&ots=LlVFuXzURc&sig=dR7XDlz1jFLMfnz3ol8A_ZlTBbk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=lfDwT6GHM8e7rQHTmYH-AQ&ved=0CE0Q6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=swiss family lester&f=false .
MGM used the island to film the Pitcairn Island scenes of Mutiny on the Bounty in 1935. The original story of this family, [b:The Legendary King of San Miguel] , was written by the wife in 1974, and one of the daughters also wrote a memoir; both were used by Ford as source material.
San Miguel is now a National Park.
This was an ARC from Penguin via Goodreads Giveaway. ( )
  TheBookJunky | Apr 22, 2016 |
Author T. C. Boyle said of San Miguel in the Wall Street Journal, “It’s something I’ve never done before. A straight historical narrative . . . without irony, without comedy. . . . Just to see if I can do it.” Personally, I don't think it was ever in doubt that he could do it. San Miguel is a historical novel that takes place on San Miguel, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of California. This is historical fiction based on the lives of two real families who resided on San Miguel. As noted "In retelling the story of the Waters and Lester families during their time on San Miguel Island, I have tried to represent the historical record as accurately as possible, and yet this is a work of fiction, not history, and dialogue, characters and incidents have necessarily been invented." It is divided into three sections and follows three different women who live there.

In the 1880's, Marantha Waters, who suffers from tuberculosis, arrives at San Miguel for the cleansing air that will make her well. Her new husband, Will has spent the last of her money buying the sheep operation on the island - which will ostensibly benefit her health. Boyle's descriptions of Marantha's coughing, gasping for air, and suffering are very detailed as she fights for her every breath on the desolate wind and sand blasted island. After she dies her daughter, Edith, is essentially turned into a servant by her stepfather and held captive on the island. She dreams of escape. Finally, Boyle introduces us to newlyweds Elise and Herbie Lester, who arrive on the island In 1930. They are decidedly in love and raise two daughters on San Miguel. Elise and Herbie establish a way of life, making peace with the island, although their story is bittersweet in the end.

My first thought after finishing San Miguel is that T. C. Boyle wrote these women characters very realistically. He has a natural insight into their thoughts and feelings. This is especially true with Marantha and Edith, less so with Elsie. I did want to learn more of what became of Edith, as her story on the island was truncated by her escape, although I understand that once she left the island,she was no longer part of this story.

My second thought is that this is an atmospheric novel; there is not wildly active plot. Boyle relies on the mundane activities of everyday life as shaped by the island's isolation and location for the drama. But, the limitations and challenges the island and weather impose on the characters makes the island a character in its own right. The characters have to react to the island.

I thought this was a highly successful venture into historical fiction for a writer who is not known for this genre. Certainly the quality of the writing itself is exemplary.

Very Highly Recommended

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of the Penguin Group and Netgalley for review purposes.
( )
1 vote SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
I was actually so inspired by the historical aspect of this story that I pulled up a google map of the island to look at while I was reading. The combination of the storytelling and the map had me so wrapped up in the lives of the families within the pages that I felt as if I were planning a visit.

San Miguel is mostly about the relationships of various family members. It follows the actions of one person to the next, but I wouldn't say this is a book with deep plot or that it contains any real adventure or serious drama. What this book does do is somehow find a little voice within certain characters to really tell their story as they live their lives. The fact that moving to the island wasn't all beauty and rainbows, is not lost on the author, who easily describes the harsh realities of solitary living in such a way that I could vividly picture the experience for myself.

Told in two parts, but through the eyes of three characters, I might have been able to predict much of what was coming as each story developed, but I still devoured every page in eagerness for the next one. I may just have to read more from this author. ( )
  mirrani | Oct 26, 2015 |
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About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters; how well they understood Its human position: how it takes place While someone is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along. --W. H. Auden, "Musee des Beaux Arts"
For Milo, who careened down the dunes and provided the electricity.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670026247, Hardcover)

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Women, a historical novel about three women’s lives on a California island

On a tiny, desolate, windswept island off the coast of Southern California, two families, one in the 1880s and one in the 1930s, come to start new lives and pursue dreams of self-reliance and freedom. Their extraordinary stories, full of struggle and hope, are the subject of T. C. Boyle’s haunting new novel.

Thirty-eight-year-old Marantha Waters arrives on San Miguel on New Year’s Day 1888 to restore her failing health.  Joined by her husband, a stubborn, driven Civil War veteran who will take over the operation of the sheep ranch on the island, Marantha strives  to persevere in the face of the hardships, some anticipated and some not, of living in such brutal isolation. Two years later their adopted teenage daughter, Edith, an aspiring actress, will exploit every opportunity to escape the captivity her father has imposed on her.  Time closes in on them all and as the new century approaches, the ranch stands untenanted. And then in March 1930, Elise Lester, a librarian from New York City, settles on San Miguel with her husband, Herbie, a World War I veteran full of manic energy.  As the years go on they find a measure of fulfillment and serenity; Elise gives birth to two daughters, and the family even achieves a celebrity of sorts. But will the peace and beauty of the island see them through the impending war as it had seen them through the Depression?

Rendered in Boyle’s accomplished, assured voice, with great period detail and utterly memorable characters, this is a moving and dramatic work from one of America’s most talented and inventive storytellers.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:16 -0400)

The lives of three women on turn-of-the-20th-century San Miguel are shaped by ambition and circumstance, including the wife of a Civil War veteran who hopes to recover her health, her rebellious aspiring actress daughter and a librarian who wonders if the island's peace will endure in the face of looming war.… (more)

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