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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

When the Killing's Done by T. C. Boyle

"The best stories don’t come from good vs. bad but from good vs. good." -- Leo Tolstoy

T.C. Boyle does three things very well in When the Killing's Done: he creates interesting characters, he tells a story made up of stories and, as always, he's a master of words. The two main characters, Alma Boyd Takesue and Dave LaJoy, are both passionate and flawed, flawed in the way real humans are. Boyd writes characters who think and his genius is that he lets us see them thinking. Thoughts lead to actions and consequences and therein lies the tale.

And it's a hell of a tale where all the big events are true and the parts he makes up are truer still. A tiny scene, in a kitchen, shows us Alma, her mind & the world:

"A horn sounds out on the freeway, a sudden sharp buzz of irritation and rebuke, and then another answers and another. She pictures the drivers, voluntarily caged, one hand clamped to the wheel, the other to the cell phone. They want. All of them. They want things, space, resources, attention to their immediate needs, but they're getting none of it--or not enough. Never enough. Of course, she's one of them, though her needs are more moderate, or at least she likes to think so."

Dave, Alma's foe, has the time and resources to battle because he's made his money in home electronics -- "his business is high-end, appealing to a need rather than a want, the society closing down day by day, people investing in home entertainment because they're increasingly reluctant even to go out into the backyard, let alone to the movie theater or anyplace else."

Both Alma and Dave love the wild places, the wild things but the conflict is bitter, complex, comic and tragic. Alma at least like to think of herself as moderate, but Dave cannot, will not, moderate his passions. Why the hell should he?

"Save them. Rescue them. Champion them. Nobody else is going to do it, that's for sure, nobody but him and Wilson and Anise, FPA, For the Protection of Animals. All animals, big and small. No exceptions. The wind's in his face, flapping the hood of the sweatshirt round his throat, the dock coming up fast--action, he's taking action while all the rest of them just sit around and whine--and he can feel the giddiness rising in him, the surge of power and triumph that rides up out of nowhere to replace the bafflement and rage and depression Dr. Reiser and his pharmaceuticals can't begin to touch. This is who he is. This."

No man or woman is an island and in this tale of islands and men and women Boyle shows us at our best, our worst and our best-intentioned. This is who T.C. Boyle is. This.

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