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Blue Skies


Blue Skies

Here’s an audacious writing prompt for all you writers out there: Write a story or a novel set during an era of climate emergency, but make it funny. That’s exactly the kind of premise that T.C. Boyle appears to be starting from with his new book, where even its epigraph (the chorus of Irving Berlin’s famously optimistic song) sets a satirical tone from the very first page.

BLUE SKIES focuses primarily on three members of a family: Ottilie and her adult children, Cooper and Catherine (Cat). Ottilie and Cooper live in California, where Cooper is an entomologist specializing in butterflies and moths. Partly as a gesture of good will for her vegetarian son (but mostly because she needs a new project), Ottilie has started raising crickets for food, including serving them and other insects during every course of what turns out to be a rather ill-fated dinner party.

"[Boyle] offers few, if any, solutions, but readers will find it virtually impossible to ignore the serious warnings that underpin his satirical approach."

Meanwhile, across the country in Florida, Cat and her boyfriend Todd, a Bacardi sales rep, have just moved into the beachfront home that Todd inherited from his mother. If Ottilie is a little aimless, Cat is downright bored. Young and beautiful, she is convinced that she can have a successful career as a social media influencer if only she can find her niche. When she wanders into Herps, a reptile shop near the bar she frequents most often, she believes she might have found it. “They were like jewelry,” she thinks, as she looks at the Burmese pythons on display and imagines racking up the likes after posting pictures of her looking fabulous with a snake draped around her neck.

As for Cooper, he has spent most of his life (at least since adolescence) wearily ringing the death knell for the human race and most animal species. For much of that time, his dire predictions fell on unreceptive ears. These days, as near-constant rains pummel Cat’s home in Florida and as rampant wildfires threaten his mom’s home in California, his family might grudgingly start to admit that he was right. But his pragmatic pessimism about the state of the world doesn’t grant him immunity from nature’s vicissitudes, either.

Told in chapters alternating among these three points of view, BLUE SKIES covers several years in a (too) near-future timeline, as the family’s fortunes decline along with the climate’s suitability for human habitation. That Burmese python Catherine spots in the first chapter is sort of like Chekhov’s gun. Readers know that some kind of tragedy is going to befall her as soon as she takes it home, and they will spend much of the novel gritting their teeth and waiting for the grim inevitability to come to pass. But that’s only one of the numerous ways in which nature goes haywire here. Although many of the scenarios that Boyle depicts are satirical or grotesque, others are certainly plausible enough to be truly frightening.

Perhaps a novel like Boyle’s --- one in which this consummate storyteller turns all of his considerable talents toward the climate emergency --- is exactly what we need right now. He offers few, if any, solutions, but readers will find it virtually impossible to ignore the serious warnings that underpin his satirical approach.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 26, 2023

Blue Skies
by T.C. Boyle

  • Publication Date: May 21, 2024
  • Genres: Fiction, Satire, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Liveright
  • ISBN-10: 1324095180
  • ISBN-13: 9781324095187