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Wild Child: And Other Stories

Review

Wild Child: And Other Stories

Although T.C. Boyle’s novels have really run the gamut of
subject matter, the one thing they all have in common is their
author’s captivating storytelling approach, which merges the
conventional with the unexpected in style and substance. Among the
strongest of Boyle’s works have been those that take an
unusual perspective on historical figures --- Frank Lloyd Wright,
Harvey Kellogg, Alfred Kinsey, etc. --- using fiction to offer
fresh, contemporary insights on real-life characters from the
past.

Similarly, the title story of Boyle’s newest story
collection, WILD CHILD, is probably the strongest of these pieces.
It relates the story of the “Wild Boy of Aveyron,” the
feral child discovered in the French woods and slowly
“civilized” over a number of years. I confess that I
knew the tale mostly because of a couple of excellent
children’s book accounts published several years ago.
However, Boyle’s story of Victor is simultaneously more
graphic and more tender as readers are left to reflect on what is
gained --- and lost --- through Victor’s
“taming.” Similarly, in “Sin Dolor,” a
doctor becomes obsessed with a young patient who apparently has no
sensitivity to pain --- but becomes horrified when the boy’s
own father exploits his child’s freakishness to turn a
buck.

As in his previous collection, TOOTH AND CLAW, WILD CHILD often
focuses --- as in the title story --- on the places where the
so-called natural world intersects with the human one. In the
disturbing “Thirteen Hundred Rats,” a grieving man
distorts the advice of well-meaning acquaintances who advise him to
get a pet. He buys a snake, but finds that he has a more visceral
connection to the rats he purchases to feed his python. In
“Admiral,” a couple who is too rich for their own good
clone their beloved deceased Afghan hound and spend all their time
trying to ensure that their new dog’s life will replicate
their old one’s exactly --- and the dog-sitter they hire
takes their advice to heart. In “Question 62,” two
sisters on opposite coasts contend with their own questions about
the proper place for “wild” animals.

Other stories explore --- often in gut-wrenching terms --- the
moral quandaries of contemporary life. In “The Lie,” a
young father, desperate to avoid work and exhausted by the drudgery
of new parenthood, tells his co-workers that the reason he
hasn’t come into the office recently is that his infant
daughter has died. In “Hands On,” a woman embarking on
her first plastic surgery procedure develops an unhealthy fixation
on the man she thinks can “fix” her.

Throughout, Boyle offers readers keen observations and robust
storytelling. Frequently, his stories seem infused with the
landscapes of California and South America. Just as often, though,
they take place in a geographically generic suburban environment
that could be anywhere. Contrasting the extreme, often violent
realms of the natural world with the sterile, controlling, lifeless
human environment results in powerful commentaries and indelible
images --- exactly what the short story is best designed for.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on April 26, 2011

Wild Child: And Other Stories
by T. C. Boyle

  • Publication Date: February 22, 2011
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0143118641
  • ISBN-13: 9780143118640