Tuesday, April 19, 2011

When the Killing's Done

T.C. Boyle is one of my favorite writers. It feels like I've been saying things are my favorite lately (Morley, LCD Soundsystem's Home and now Boyle) but it's true. I don't throw around superlatives. If I say something is my favorite, it's definitely in the 90th percentile of whatever it is I'm talking about or better.

Getting back to Boyle, he has an amazing way with words, being able to really capture the essence of a point in time, often with multiple senses, without bogging down the story or making it feel overbearing. He also does a great job with character development and dialogue. His works, though fiction, seem real. His novel about Frank Lloyd Wright, The Women, is my favorite book of his I have read.

When the Killing's Done is typical Boyle. The story takes place around the Channel Islands off of California. Alma Takesue is a National Park Service biologist who is out to eradicate invasive wildlife from the islands. Dave LaJoy is an owner of a chain of successful electronic retail stores who has issues with Alma killing off animals of any kind. He heads an organization called For the Protection of Animals that tries a variety of techniques to stop Alma from going through with her plans.

Although Alma and Dave are the main characters, there are also a number of secondary characters, the most notable being Dave's girlfriend Anise. The reader is taken into the past and learns about Alma's mother and grandmother as well as Anise's mother. These little forays help in the understanding of the characters and their motivations. The narration of the story also jumps around from character to character presenting the viewpoints of each character and making it unclear as to who is the good guy and who is not.

While Boyle paints pretty literary pictures, there are some negatives with this book. First, it is extremely stressful. The antagonism between Alma and Dave is obvious and incessant. They think of each other so much, they should be lovers instead of enemies. Both are committed to saving the environment, each in their own way. The way Boyle depicts their reasoning, it makes it difficult to determine who is right on an issue and who is wrong, or even if there is a right or wrong. The ending has a twist that even throws another entire viewpoint into the discussion; does either side even matter?

Another potential negative for some people is Boyle's vocabulary. I always learn new words reading his books and this one seemed better than most. I wasn't running off to look up new words as frequently as I did with other works of his. But it's like they say, why use a big word when a diminutive one will do?

Finally, and maybe it is just me, I really hate reading about smells. I think my sense of smell is my least developed sense and maybe that's why I get irked reading about smells. For better or worse, Boyle writes about smells.

A well-told story with great writing and developed characters outweigh the negatives. Of the Boyle books I've read, I'd probably put it third, behind The Women and Wild Child. The Women is very hefty and not a book that is a casual read. Wild Child is a collection of short stories, a format that Boyle excels at, but one that is different from a novel. So that makes this book a good one to pick up if you're looking for an introduction to Boyle's work.

Training Update: Life has seriously been getting in the way. I was on the rower for a brief moment this morning, the first since my ten miler, and I just wasn't feeling it. Tomorrow isn't looking too good unless I try to squeeze in a quick row in the morning before I get ready for work. Right now I'm hoping to get in a long row Thursday after work before my son's ballgame. Too much juggling at the moment but I am getting some other things done so there's that.

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