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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Love and loss in T.C. Boyle's story

T.C. Boyle is one of those writers whose reputation may suffer a bit because of his productivity - a miniature version of J.C. Oates in that regard - he's written numerous novels and many stories, and despite many great reviews never seems to end up on the best living writers list: perhaps because he's never had that single breakout book that forever will be associated with his name and corpus? Or perhaps because he's tried many different styles and approaches so he doesn't have an immediately identifiable voice like, say DeLillo or Roth. I've admired his work for many years, have read some (not all by any means) of his novels and many stories - have liked his work since the early collection If the River Was Whiskey. His style is always accessible, very often often, and his characters tend to be down and out hipsters, often on the West Coast, a little but stoned, drunk, or just lost. He has a great ear for slang and colloquialisms, and his characters, though often heading nowhere, tend to be sympathetic losers rather than disreputable eccentrics. His story in the current New Yorker, Birnam Wood, is a good example of Boyle's work: narrated apparently by a guy looking back at a failed relationship from early years, when living with young woman just out of college in abject poverty and hippie squalor, and through good fortune they manage to find housing way above their means in a caretaker's apartment on a small lakeside estate (not sure where, probably the East Coast). The guy's a sub teacher wasting his life and talents, and the girl is a slacker but gets a job as a hostess in a restaurant/bar. The only true action of the story is when a guy at the bar essentially follows them home and the girl lets him come in, apparently interested in him, and the narrator walks off into the night. Story ends rather abruptly, but has a good melancholic feeling - the stupid mistakes young people in love make, the vanity of the beloved, the wounded egos, the pain of rejection felt so deeply it can last a lifetime. The title is significant I think: TC Boyle must know the Shakespeare reference, but not sure what the significance to him may be. Is this love mismatch a tragic affair, a war unto the death?

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