I have been a fan of T.C. Boyle for the past few years. I first read “Tortilla Curtain” in 2011, and followed that up a few years later with “Drop City.” Boyle has a distinctive voice, cutting and dour, but also reflective. His examination of topics through, and he tackles tough subjects and places characters into situations of existential crisis with almost a relish. His books cover hard topics and hardened people, often in hopeless situations, but his writing forgives him for taking you down such dark roads.
I’m glad I was equipped with this knowledge when I picked up his book of short stories. I am not typically a short story fan; the format typically leaves me wanting more. However, as I was already a fan of Boyle’s work I decided to give his collection a whirl, and it was as fantastic as his novels except, well, shorter. 🙂 Somehow he manages to make a few pages feel like an entire book, with rich detail. He covers a lot of ground, and wastes not a word in his writing.
Be forewarned, these are dark stories, almost unrelenting in the sense that many (most) of the characters are filled with ennui, pushed to their breaking points. And then they usually break. From a desperate love-crazed bachelor in Alaska to the last few survivors of the apocalypse (the titular story) his characters are typically victims either of circumstance, or self. Lonely widows, jealous boyfriends, abandoned children, forgotten elderly, this book has it all, and piles it all on top of you.
I cannot recommend this book enough; however, take your time with it. It would have been hard to stomach in one sitting. I chose to read no more than two stories in one sitting, maybe less, then would put it down and come back a few days later. In this way I was able to really digest the stories and not feel mired down by the subject matter. An excellent pairing would be a few of these stories, alternating with episodes of the delightful “The Great British Bake Off” television program. Bake Off to lift you up, and Boyle to bring you back down again. I can think of worse ways to spend a few weeks.