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When The Killing's Done

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T Coraghessan Boyle is not as well known on this side of the Atlantic as I believe he deserves to be, and is one of the few modern writers I can think of who seems equally at home with short stories, where he cut his teeth in the 1980s, and longer novels.


A little like Steinbeck, Boyle's writing often studies is the regular Joes of California. Inevitably, however, Boyle's characters are very different from Steinbeck; his focus is the baby boom generation of aging hippies. Previous books have been set on communes (Drop City, may favourite from what I've read of his)  and dope farms (Budding Prospects), for example. This is also the generation from which the environmentalist movement sprang, and it is this which is the focus of When The Killing's Done.


The novel opens startlingly with a shipwreck. Its lone survivor, Beverley, washes up on the island of Anacapa, where invading rats are doing battle with the local fox population. Then, the story leaps forward to its central strand, set in 1980. Park Service Ranger Alma Boyd Takasue, is charged with overseeing the extermination of pigs on neighbouring Santa Cruz Island, as well as the continuing battle of the species on Anacapa. Her nemesis is local electronics store owner Dave La Joy, his musician girlfriend Anise and his band of environmental activists. Anise provides a link to the novel's third strand, as she grew up on Anacapa where her mother worked as a cook on the island's sheep farm.


As you might guess from this description, this is a big novel tackling big themes. Who's right: the Rangers exterminating invading species, or La Joy and co. with their desire to prevent the slaughter? Who will come out on top? 


Boyle provides plenty of detail and colour, resulting in a novel collapsing under the weight of description and back story, smothering what could have been a pacy, yet thought provoking read. The two chief protagonists are vividly drawn, especially Alma, who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant in the course of the novel, providing another sideline. La Joy, perhaps appropriately for a man so devoted to a single issue, seems rather less complex in comparison.


This is great writing (Boyle's a Creative Writing professor as well as a prolific novelist) there's just rather too much of it.



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No worries, bp. I think Boyle's written some very good stuff, but this isn't among his best. Drop City or The Tortilla Curtain would be better places for newbies to start.    

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I love to read TC but he gets language drunk in every book and rides of the rails. I've often thought that it must be a monumental job editing him, and have felt a debt of gratitude to the editors who do make his books as manageable as they are. But there are many many things worse than too much TC Boyle. Thanks for a great review. I wasn't aware he had a new book out

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