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T.C. Boyle Stories by T.C. Boyle
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T.C. Boyle Stories

by T.C. Boyle

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This 700 page volume is quite extensive but it's major flaw is also in some ways it's best asset and that is just that Boyle is sort of all over the place. He ventures into the heads of people all over the US and beyond, traveling into the head of a Russian, and a Norseman in Ireland. He takes you to Spain and to Mexico. At the same time, though the variety is nice and makes for a more interesting read overall, one can't help wondering why Boyle didn't stick with what he knew best.

In any case, some of these stories are quite well written and definitively worthwhile reading whereas others are a mere shrug. Boyle can be quite poetic and even prophetic but then at other times, he's just making observations about everyday life and seemingly normal or average characters. He touches on activism, finding species and studying them like the blue whale and frogs as well as vegetarianism but he's even realistic about these stories and characters too right down to their fatal flaws. A man can become positively turned inside out by a Women's Restaurant. A woman in California can't live without her previous babies, which are really squirrels she's taken in. A man struggling to make ends meet makes a deal with The Devil. A rain that is really blood, an arctic mission, and a hoarder who hires someone to clean up his house and put his wife into a special rehab. These are not often profound but the metaphors and imagery can still be quite striking.



Favorite quotes:

Pg. 139 "The sun here is mellow as an orange. One day, it will flare up and turn the solar system to cinders. Then it will fall into itself, suck in the ribbons of flame like a pale ember. gather its last breath and explode, driving particles eternally through the universe, cosmic wind."


pg. 172 "Outside, it was snowing. Big, warm, healing flakes. It was the kind of snow my father used to hold his hands out to, murmuring God must be up there plucking chickens."


pg. 264 "A single second, big as a zeppelin, floated by."

pg. 385 "The mime makes his George-Washington-crossing-the-Deleware face."

pg. 529 "The bird (raven) mounted high, winging to the southeast until it became a black rune carved into the horizon. We followed it into a night of full moon, the stars like milk splatter in the cauldron of the sky."

pg. 530 "We were shadows, fears, fragments of a bad dream."

pg. 602 "They (birds) come like apocalypse, like all ten plagues rolled in one, beating across the sky with an insidious drone, their voices harsh and metallic, cursing the land. Ten million strong, a flock that blots out the huge pale sinking sun, they descend into the trees with a protracted explosion of wings, black underfeathers swirling down like a corrupt snow."

pg. 605 "Outside, in the trees, the doomed birds whisper among themselves, and the sound is like thunder in her ears."

pg. 623 "But indomitable, he presses on, a navy fight tune frozen in his cerebrum. Ard! he bellows (he had meant to yell "On your Bastards!" but the wind had driven the words back at him, right down his throat and into his shocked lungs). Son his fingers will become brittle, and the fluid in his eyes will turn to slush"

pg. 685 "Things are what we're disburdening you of, Mr. Laxner. Things are crushing you, stealing your space, pulluting your soul."

pg. 691 "Julian doesn't know how long he standes there, in the middle of that barren room in the silence of that big empty house, holding Marsha, holding hss wife, but when he shuts his eyes he sees only the sterile deeps of space, the remotest regions beyond even the reach of light. And he knows this: it is cold out there, inhospitable, alien. There's nothing there, nothing contained in nothing. Nothing at all.







( )
  kirstiecat | Mar 31, 2013 |
One of my favourite stories in this volume is one where a father and his daughter are freaking out because they see a man at the convenience store who scares them. Yes, he does look scary, and they are right to be scared, or are they? Even the people who are offended by creepy looking people are hardly ever perfect themselves. If there is one thing I get reminded of by reading T. C. Boyle, it is to never get lulled into thinking I know what people are like by guessing based on their looks. There are a lot of "normal" looking people who are criminals, and a lot of creepy looking people whom you should pursue as friends and acquaintances. This theme seem's to recur over and over again, including in the Tortilla Curtain, Talk Talk and in Drop City. News story after news story indicates that the people you should have feared were exactly the ones you were oblivious to because you were busy being afraid of someone who is totally innocent.
Ever since I read The Tortilla Curtain, I was hooked. There are only a couple of his books left for me yet to read. Would like to finish them off as soon as possible.
I found snykanen's comments particularly helpful.
  libraryhermit | Oct 12, 2010 |
Notes on one story - Greasy Lake

“It's about a mile down on the dark side of route eighty-eight”

Bruce Springsteen’s words are the first we read at the beginning of Greasy Lake, a short story written by T.C. Boyle in 1981.

Greasy Lake provides the destination for Crazy Janey and Wild Billy in song and the destination for Jeff and Digby in story. Both song and story have unnamed narrators who recount a night at Greasy Lake, each with different outcomes.

T.C. Boyle’s story focuses on a small group of friends, college age, seeking experiences on an early June evening to match the image they have built for themselves: “dangerous characters.” Their search is initially unsuccessful (“The first two nights we’d been out till dawn, looking for something we never found.”), but the third night eventually brought exactly what they were looking for – a dangerous situation for dangerous characters.

“Oh, you don't know what they can do to you
Spirits in the night (all night), in the night (all night)
Stand right up now and let it shoot through you” (Bruce Springsteen)

The spirits in the night of Boyle’s story infuse the three friends with a violent response after stumbling into an unexpected confrontation with a couple in a car, a car they thought would contain another friend, Tony, with “some little fox.” The initial violence is recounted with images of Rockettes and Bruce Lee, images that make you smile about a prank gone bad, but suddenly a tire iron swung by the narrator fells the “bad greasy character” who took exception to their prank. Time stops as they assume he is dead, killed instantly by the blow to his head. “The effect was instantaneous, astonishing…He collapsed. Wet his pants. Went loose in his boots.”

They are brought back to the moment by “a raw torn shriek,” a scream from “the fox” as she ran at them in rage. The blood lust of the situation heightens. All three are described as being in the grip of “the purest primal badness” while grabbing her, tearing at her clothes with the intent of raping her. The arrival of another car halts the attack and the friends scatter, the narrator running toward Greasy Lake to make another horrific discovery in this horrible night. While attempting to swim the lake, to escape from whoever arrived at the scene, the narrator stumbles upon a body floating in the lake, later surmised to be the owner of a nearby motorcycle, “a bad older character come to this.”

We later discover that the tire iron did not deliver a fatal blow. We are privy to the description of the distant sounds of the narrator’s car (his mother’s car) being destroyed with that same tire iron: windshield, headlights, taillights, and body. The greasy character and his friends take their leave, having extracted some semblance of revenge for the events of the night.

As dawn approaches, our original group of friends gather around the battered car, still in running condition, but a visual testament to the chaos of the night, a night in which they were caught up in the badness they sought at Greasy Lake.

Just as they are to leave, two drunken and stoned young women arrive in a car, calling out the name of the biker, whose body is floating in the lake, the body discovered by the narrator during his night of terror. The disappearance of Al, their biker friend, lifeless in Greasy Lake, is quickly forgotten. Rather, they see an opportunity; an opportunity to share some “tablets in glassine wrappers,” an opportunity “to party.”

Wild Billy said, "Trust some of this it'll show you where you're at, or at least it'll help you really feel it" (Bruce Springsteen)

Throughout the story, knowing that they had found what they were looking for, the narrator’s only stated epiphany is the realization that the “obscene…soft, wet, moss-grown” object he stumbled upon in the lake was a corpse, the “waterlogged corpse” of the biker. We never witness what insight he may have gained, even in retrospect (since the story is told from his perspective many years later). We are left to wonder if he found anything other than horror that night, anything other than the fear of being caught or the fear of creating a believable story as to what happened to the car. This point is brought home in his response to the young girls who inquire about Al. “Al. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to get out of the car and retch, I wanted to go home to my parents’ house and crawl into bed…’We haven’t seen anybody,’ I said.” He doesn’t immediately face up to the consequences of the night. We hear no regret as he tells the story years later. We don’t know if he really felt it at all.

“So we closed our eyes and said goodbye to gypsy angel row, felt so right” (Bruce Springsteen)

The characters in Bruce’s song felt so right at the end of their night at Greasy Lake. Boyle’s characters are numb, “zombies, like war veterans, like deaf-and-dumb pencil peddlers.” Like one of the girls at the end of the story, we are left in a daze, “standing there…shoulders slumped, hand outstretched” hoping they learned something. I can hope, but I don’t believe they did.
  Griff | Feb 8, 2008 |
I've only read a few of these stories so far, but what I've read has been excellent. I especially liked "Back in the Eocene." Very droll. ( )
  wirkman | Feb 22, 2007 |
Reprinting Boyle's first four volumes of short stories into one big book (as well as seven additonal stories, two of which had never been printed before), this collection runs the gamut from hilarious to heartbreakingly real. This collection not only proves that T. C. Boyle is a master novelist but a modern master of the short story as well.

My only problem with this book has othing to do with Boyle's abilities or the content of the stories therein. It's a sequencing issue. The book is divided into three sections (titled "Love", "Death", and "Everything Else") and the stories are divided as closely into those categories as they can possibly be. The end result of this maneuver is that sitting down and reading a few stories chronologically can lead one who doesn't know any better to believe that Boyle is a one-trick pony, only writing about a select handful of topics. This is decidely not the case. The book itself would have served to disprove this misnomer better if it had in fact simply reprinted the previous volumes. New readers to Boyle will probably enjoy this collection more if they "pick and choose" stories and read them out of order.

With that said, Boyle is without question one of our greatest contemporary writers and this volume proves it faster than his novels would. ( )
  pynchon82 | Feb 9, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 014028091X, Paperback)

Skinny, earringed, satanically goateed, T. Coraghessan Boyle is the trickster figure of American letters. Part court jester, part holy fool, he slips in and out of various narrative disguises as it suits him. Nowhere is this more evident than in his short fiction, in which he bounces from psychological naturalism to giddy slapstick, dreamy surrealism to biting satire--sometimes within the space of a single tale. The sprawling and idiosyncratic T.C. Boyle Stories brings together his four previous volumes of short fiction, Descent of Man (1979), Greasy Lake (1985), If the River Was Whiskey (1989), and Without a Hero (1994), as well as seven previously uncollected stories, two of which have never before seen print. In both range and sheer heft, it's a remarkable collection, the more so since it represents an artist only midway through his career.

These stories find Boyle partying like it's 1999. He zeroes in on our age's most uncomfortable obsessions, its late-capitalist fetishes and millenarian fears: nervous Los Angelenos suckered into buying a Montana survivalist's retreat ("On for the Long Haul"); a hygienically obsessed girlfriend who insists on wearing a full-body condom ("Modern Love"); a rich, guilty couple suffocating under the weight of a lifetime's possessions ("Filthy with Things"). Elsewhere, he updates Gogol for late Soviet times ("The Overcoat II"), retells the death of blues god Robert Johnson ("Hellhound on My Trail"), even goes clubbing with that hot '90s property, the author of Mansfield Park ("I Dated Jane Austen"). Boyle's comic range is unparalleled, his timing razor-sharp as he skewers everyone from burglar alarm salesmen to the Beats. Like all tricksters, the author uses our own vanity and hypocrisy against us--but with barbs as witty as those found in T.C. Boyle Stories, not even his victims will mind. --Mary Park

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:31:49 -0400)

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