When the Killing's Done: A Novel Paperback – Feb 28 2012
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PRAISE FOR THE WOMEN: 'Boyle at his best ... mesmerizing' New York Times Book Review 'The prose is sparkling, the narrative gripping, and the material to die for' The Times 'Boyle ratchets up every ounce of tension from the story. It's a stunning achievement' Daily Mail 'Crackles with drama ... a blisteringly good read' Sunday Telegraph Summer Reads --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
T. C. Boyle is the author of eleven novels, including World's End (winner of the PEN/FaulknerAward), Drop City (a New York Times bestseller and finalist for the National Book Award), and The Inner Circle. His most recent story collections are Tooth and Claw and The Human Fly and Other Stories.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
If anyone else with a lesser gift for language attempted this sort of thing, I doubt anyone would be reading that author, but Boyle almost gets away with it. Parts of this book are beautifully told, and in places it's as engrossing as one would expect from Boyle. But everything has to be described down to the nth detail, and in places it becomes almost exhausting.
A person can't just walk into the kitchen and make a sandwich. They walk into the kitchen and before you find out what happens next, you're presented with a mini-biography including things the person's grandparents did in Poughkeepsie back in 1829. Then you get back to the making of the sandwich, but before the sandwich gets made, you get a full list of ingredients, including the character's childhood fondness for some of those ingredients based on certain formative experiences. I'm exaggerating somewhat to make my point, but not that much.
The story itself moves in fits and starts. The shipwreck of Alma's grandmother is very well told, as is the sequence of Rita's life on the sheep farm. Dave LaJoy is an interesting character, if only because he is so stupid and obnoxious. His opponent, Alma, is less well delineated; LaJoy is a self-absorbed fanatic while Alma seems almost like the voice of reason.
Boyle's best novels manage to blend his flair for wildly inventive and ornate prose with a strong narrative pace, but in The Women, and now in this new book, his narrative gifts have fallen off and the elaborate spaghetti-code sentences seem to be taking over like kudzu, strangling the story and burying it beneath mountains of unnecessary detail.
Still, it has fine moments, and most Boyle fans will find it enjoyable. Reading it is certainly not a waste of time; it just requires more effort than it should.
Boyle turns eco controversy on its head, turning back to the theme that man's desire to keep a clean footprint on the earth is a messy and dirty job, often with dire consequences. This is Boyle; bully pulpits are bent with irony, and righteousness is fraught with disobedience. Endangerment of the species brings on reckless endangerment of lives. Who has the right to dominate, to possess this planet? Humans, creatures, natural inhabitants, invasive species--several are examined, many left wanting--especially humans.
Restoration ecologist/ biologist and PhD Alma Boyd Takesue spearheads a program with the National Parks Service to exterminate invasive species on the Channel Islands of California. She argues that the infestation of rats and feral pigs are killing off the endemic Channel Island Foxes and disrupting the natural ecosystem.
Her dreadlocked nemesis, businessman Dave LaJoy, knows all about disruption. He protests every one of Alma's presentations to declare war on her efforts, and is opposed to the idea that extirpation leads to preservation. No public presentation by Alma is without LaJoy's outcry.
" `How can you talk about being civil when innocent animals are being tortured to death? Civil? I'll be civil when the killing's done and not a minute before.' "
LaJoy is the contentious head of FPA (For the Protection of Animals), a small organization viewed by ecologists as fanatical. His folksinger girlfriend, Anise Reed, is at his side on this issue, contrary to--or a result of--her childhood on a sheep farm on one of the Northern Channel Islands, Santa Cruz, which ended with a bloodlust tragedy.
Alma has the law of the federal government, if not always nature, on her side, as well as her Park Service employee boyfriend, Tim Sickafoose. LaJoy is the underdog, dependent on citizen donations and ruled by his unbridled rage. He is primed to fight with subversive acts designed to undermine Alma's program. No ecologists will keep LaJoy from his battle to save the animals. Boyle, in his typical rogue tenor, demonstrates that both sides of the fence are imbued with truth and riddled with internal contradictions.
Boyle shifts time periods to illustrate the recent history of the islands and dramatize the inextricable links between past and present, from the introduction of non-native species, to the family connections of Alma and Anise. Alma's grandmother survived a shipwreck near Anacapa while she was pregnant with Alma's mother. Boyle's portrayal of this disaster was stunning, a pinpoint event of woman overcoming the storm of nature's catastrophes with some tragic and triumphant results.
Years later, on Santa Cruz Island, Anise's mother suffered a chilling invasion of corporate corruption and a hideous attack on the sheep farm where she lived and toiled. She had worked hard to keep the hungry ravens from the ewes, their carrion cries now reverberating through the years.
The historical segments were superbly vivid and requisite to the central story, but interspersed throughout were florid narrative ambushes and excursions that slowed the central movement to a crawl. The cadence was generally barky and rough, as choppy as the Channel Island waters, as emphatic and forceful as a winter storm. I never felt that Boyd hit a rhythmic stride; it was loud and strident, with a manic refrain. But there were jewel-cut, Boyle-cut passages within that often lifted off and flew from the turgid overflow.
Although he dodged from sermonizing, it periodically read like an almanac or lecture. His voice tapped in the background, then ceded to the ripe moments of story. It was page-turning terror until the advent of excess fluctuations, like waves crashing against the wily outcroppings of jagged rock. The symmetry was lost at sea, and the climax was drowned in the fury.
However, despite these complaints, I was mentally fastened and stimulated, although the emotional resonance faded by the last hundred pages. It's a visionary story, but it lacks visual constancy except for some eye-popping flourishes.
Also, some of the characters drift off or stagnate, or are trammeled by the themes. It was their "purpose" that overrode their other characteristics. There was something missing emotionally, and I lost interest in them as individuals. But, alas, their absolute certainties are left for the reader to ponder. I am tempted to just say: Boyle was being Boyle, only more so. He is one-of-a-kind, an island of Boyle, and who am I to cross it?
The inclusion of pigs, whether capitalist or feral; the onslaught of rats, both animal and human; a nest of snakes, poisonous or colloquial; and the carrion birds circling the sky are just a few of the metaphorical joists that furnish the narrative and add dimension to the interlocking sequences. As a conservation story, the prose isn't too thrifty, but in the end, you will be glad you read it. I hesitate to say it is significant, but there you go. Boyle is a rare species. It is topical and arch, Boyle and boiling, trenchant and tough.
Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended)
Remember that Boyle is a novelist not a biologist. He is an observer of human activity and human nature and human errors. This business on Santa Cruz just provided him with a really good example of good intentions gone awry. (I had to check on the Internet. The Park Service really did this outrageous thing.) The ethical stance of the creator is stated clearly in the beginning, you don't know the consequences of your actions so do as little harm as possible. If it seems wrong (ie. Wantonly slaughtering living creatures); it probably is. It is clear in the context of this story that both Dave and Alma are busy fools. They are deliberately portrayed as insufferably benighted. The question is not whether Dave or Alma is on the right side. Anyone who reached the end of this novel believing that its creator attributes any validity to theories about native and invasive species on any corner of this bit of molten rock we inhabit missed the point. There is no pre-lapsarian Eden where all creatures are in the appropriate places; Boyle underscores this idea repeatedly. All creatures migrate and adapt and in so doing alter the environment they are adapting to. Interference with the process on the part of one of the most destructive, aggressive species on the planet is pure hubris. But, of course, Dave LaJoy recklessly interferes with nature as well just to satisfy a very selfish desire. There is also a common Boyle theme that anyone who does mess with nature will be soon taught a lesson. The idea from the "Tortilla Curtain" is expressed here in a different context. For all our delusions of godlike power, we are very small, vulnerable bits of evolution. Our moral imperative is to love one another. This is a complex examination of a number of current ethical stances regarding our responsibility to each other and the Earth.