T.C. Boyle, over the course of ten novels as diverse as THE ROAD TO WELLVILLE and THE INNER CIRCLE, has gained a reputation as one of our most imaginative and gifted novelists. Now, with the equally wide-ranging collection TOOTH AND CLAW, Boyle proves his facility with the short story genre as well.
Many of the stories (all of which have been previously published in sources such as The New Yorker and Playboy) center on two strangers meeting in a bar. For some, these barroom meetings lead to reminiscences about the past, as in the opening story, "When I Woke Up This Morning, Everything I Had Was Gone," in which a man relates his son's tragic death to a stranger. In others, these conversations lead to a sometimes uncertain and turbulent future --- in "All the Wrecks I've Climbed Out Of," a new young bartender soon becomes too closely involved in his co-workers' drugged escapades and sexual liaisons.
Boyle often uses the natural world as a metaphor in his stories, whether it be the extinction of animals standing in for the potential demise of a snowbound couple (or of their relationship) in "The Swift Passage of the Animals," or the threat of a cataclysmic asteroid strike symbolizing the sudden death of a child in "Chicxulub." Sometimes animals have a literal presence in the stories, as in the oddly moving "Dogology," about a suburban biologist who escapes modern drudgery by running with a neighborhood dog pack, or in "Jubilation," a satirical fictionalization of Disney's Celebration planned community, in which a displaced alligator has his revenge.
Although most of the stories have a contemporary setting, Boyle also demonstrates his vast imagination and grasp of history with stories such as "Up Against the Wall," set during the Vietnam era, and "The Doubtfulness of Water," the saga of one woman's journey from Boston to New York in 1702. Boyle's penchant for historical research and accuracy has informed many of his novels; here he uses those same skills to equally powerful effect.
Too many readers never pick up a short story after reading stories in high school or college literature courses. T.C. Boyle's powerful, down-to-earth stories are reason enough to rediscover this robust, versatile literary form.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 4, 2011