A novel’s setting can be as important as any of the characters who populate the story. The island on which the action in SAN MIGUEL, T.C. Boyle’s latest, takes place --- with its smells of sea wrack and salt spray and the “pocked volcanic cliffs fringed with a poor sort of desert vegetation” --- is integral to the sagas of the two families that live there over the book’s 54 years. And Boyle’s loving depiction of this now-uninhabited island is among the novel’s greatest pleasures.
Based on real events, SAN MIGUEL is comprised of two independent short novels. The first, set from 1888 to 1890, is the tale of the Waters family. Marantha Waters suffers from consum