T.C. Boyle is another one of those author’s I’ve heard a ton about but never explored. To me, he seems sort of like a ‘gentleman’s club’ writer – someone meant specifically for male readers which is probably absurd. But something just felt so nebulously masculine in a way that put me off. Enter the library where you can borrow books for free! Or you can just check out the New Yorker online for the title story!
Tooth and Claw borrows its title from a Tennyson poem wherein nature is described as:
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law—
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed—
Boyle’s 14 shorts all link to nature in some way – great or small. At times nature is a force to be reckoned with and at others a quiet mention providing background scenery. I think the ‘nature’ even doubles as human nature more often than not. Sometimes the stories work and sometimes they bore you to death.
That’s not to say that the collection isn’t worth reading because I believe it is. A couple of the stories actually won me over enough that I bought a hardcover edition to add to my other short story collections. The first winner was ‘Dogology’ where a woman endeavors to study dog behavior in the most natural of ways, eventually losing her ‘humanness’. The second was ‘Swept Away’ where a love story is put to its conclusion when a violent wind storm literally sweeps away a visiting ornithologist. I’m fairly certain she didn’t end up in Oz.
However, more often than not Boyle’s narratives follow some average joe dude who’s content drinking himself or drugging himself into a sort of oblivion (enter that gentleman’s club theme I mentioned above). These shorts are rarely compelling enough to warrant reading, let alone rereading.
What I particularly appreciate with short stories is that you don’t have to read the ones you don’t enjoy! You can skip whole chunks of blathering nonsense and cherish the brilliance in-between. There’s no doubt that Boyle is talented, but perhaps next time I’ll seek out works that aren’t quite as bogged down in his own past history with the drinking and drugging. For all the time he spends on down and out males, I actually think he writes fairly interesting women. So there will be a next meeting, Mr. Boyle. Perhaps a novel, yes?