Possibly because I am a short story junkie, the first writer who came to mind as I thought about today’s earthquake and the impending hurricane was T.C. Boyle. He has written several provocative collections, including IF THE RIVER WAS WHISKEY, GREASY LAKE & OTHER STORIES, and WITHOUT A HERO & OTHER STORIES.
His collection DESCENT OF MAN is probably my favorite. Like much of his other work, it is sardonic and absurd. And in case you were wondering, yes, this title is meant to remind you of Darwin’s, with the twist that Boyle is being ironic. The story “Bloodfall,” provides just the right sort of dark humor to match recent events. The title gives a lot away. Some people partying at a friend’s house suddenly realize that the sky is red and raining blood. OK, it’s kinda gross. And because it’s a Boyle story, it gets worse. I won’t spoil it. I’ll just say that sometimes we need the experience of reading disgusting stuff to get the point.
Another story, “Drowning,” is also unforgettable. It begins as follows:
In this story, someone will drown. Yet there will be no apparent reason for this drowning—it will not for example be attributable to suicide, murder, divine retribution—nor even such arcane as current and undertow. It will instead be like so many events of the future: inexplicable, incomprehensible. Nonetheless, it will occur.
What follows is a narrative that hints at violence then stops hinting. You think something terrible is going to happen and it doesn’t, and then something worse happens. It’s awful and brilliant and you don’t want to watch but you can’t turn away. It plays on our biases so that by the end we feel guilty. Which we should, given what we thought all along.
If you’ve read this book, I’d love to hear what you think.