Thursday, November 3, 2016
Disappointing dystopian fiction from TC Boyle
T Coraghesan Boyle, a prolific, smart, entertaining writer who has explored so many genres and ideas in his long career, shows up in this week's New Yorker with a story, Are We Not Men? ( is this a quote or a reference that I've missed?) which is an homage to one of his great contemporaries, George Saunders - but unfortunately its a pale version of a Saunders story. This may be new territory for Boyle, I'm not sure, but his footing is uneven: story narrated by a disaffected middle-aged narrator in strained marriage and dull job (somewhat typical of Boyle,'s literary milieu, and of Saunders's as well) but we're some 20 years or so into the future in a world in which virtually all of nature has been made over by genetic engineering: So what is most likely a fairly ordinary American suburb has lawns that glow iridescent green and trees that shed neither leaves, bark, nor twigs. In the opening paragraph the narrator confronts a loose do the color of a maraschino, and we later learn it's a genetic breed called a Cherry Pit (ha). Of course the engineering doesn't stop w/ pets and lawn care but is also part of procreation: couples getting pregnant order the genetic makeup they want for their child, much like, as he notes, selecting options for a new car - so we see a world of 6-foot-tall middle-schoolers who are preternaturally fluent in French. Ok, so this world is unsettling and odd, like much of Saunders's fiction, but where it falls short: Boyle doesn't do much with his imagined world. The plot is wafer-thin: essentially, narrator has brief affair with next-door neighbor to console her for loss of her engineered pet pig and neighbor becomes pregnant at same time as narrator's Type A+ wife, and at the end I just shrugged and said so what? There's no sense of horror or despair or exploitation in this story, which there could be, should be - and even less sense that Boyle is seriously (or even comically) trying to peer into a dystopian future: it's just a romp, really, funny at times and always well narratred - Boyle is a complete writing pro in any subgenre - but it seems finally pointless, or aimless.