>Tooth and Claw

>by T.C. Boyle

I don’t consider myself a T.C. Boyle fan. Boyle has certainly been successful and I know people who read everything he writes, but I just can’t get that excited. Maybe I started in the wrong place. At this point, I’ve read just one of his novels (Drop City, which was engaging, but populated with caricatures, I thought) and various short stories. It’s only to discover what other people see in his work that I’ll keep trying. Here is an interview with Boyle from a couple of years ago in Identity Theory, and here’s a pretty amazing T.C. Boyle Resource that appears, unfortunately, to be out of date. Still there’s a lot there that looks interesting.

Now I’ve read Tooth and Claw, his most recent collection of stories, which I consider uneven. Which is absurd of me to say because all 14 of the stories were previously published in the best magazines: The New Yorker (5), Playboy (3), Harper’s (2), McSweeney’s (2), GQ (1) and StoryQuarterly (1). Not to mention an O. Henry Prize (2003) and recognition in BASS (2004).

I think one of my problems with this collection is that I find the narrators who are drowning in booze and drugs get a little old, especially when it happens over and over again in the stories (and this is especially since I’ve just read Mooch, which is all about that), so stories like “All the Wrecks I’ve Crawled Out Of” and “Up Against the Wall” don’t do much for me.

My favorite story here, if I have one, is “Tooth and Claw,” about Junior, who as moved to the Coast to put a little excitement in his life. He’s working in construction, but not steadily, and he looks for a place to hang out. He finds a bar, where he in a game of bar dice he wins a serval cat from Ludwig. Because Daria, a waitress, is excited by the cat, Junior takes it home with him and together he and Daria try to figure out what to do. He’s pretty happy about the situation, but, naturally, it doesn’t last.

That one was in The New Yorker and BASS 2004.

About the author


  1. >I read that one in BASS and liked it. I have his collection but haven’t read it yet. I’ll let you know what I think when I do.

  2. >I like the one (also in the NY’er) about the schoolteachers who go to Alaska to find husbands…really knocked me out. TC read it at the
    Santa Barbara Writers Conference one year and it knocked me out. But his novels….I just don’t seem to get thru them. I try, but I go back to the short stories…and without fervor. I thought I was one of his biggest fans and turns out I like that one story a LOT.

  3. >I’ve had a problem recently with reading short story collections by a single author, and I think the problem stems from reading the a series of stories straight through, like a novel. Strong voice (which most good stories have) can get very old very fast. I’ll read BASS of Best New STories from the South straight through, and the variety of author voices is refreshing. But read a single author collection that way, and by the fourth or fifth story, I’m yearning for something different…anything different.

    So now I’ll read a couple stories, read something else, come back to it a week or three later. It takes longer to read a collection that way, but it keeps me from getting saturated with the voice.

  4. >Kat, I look forward to hearing what you say about the collection.

    Bev, I’m not sure I remember the Alaska story. I’d love to hear him read, and I’m defnintely going to give one of the novels another try.

    Jim, That’s a funny comment coming from you, with your collection about to be published! But I know what you mean and that’s probably a good way to approach a collection. In fact I did that with this one, more because I got interrupted. Still, it left a unified impression.

    Mary, Guess who I was thinking of when I mentioned fans?

  5. >Just last week I read galleys for my book, read it straight through like a book for the first time. After three of four stories I was thinking, quite immodestly, how very good the stories worked, how strong the writing was. By the time I finished, I was weary of the voice and I felt I’d hit the same note too often in the stories. (I hearby copyright this comment so you may not use it against me in the fall when the book enters the world for real.)

    It is the one weakness of single-author fiction collections, and I don’t know a way around it, other than breaking things up interspersing other things.

  6. >I think Jim’s onto something. BUT there are those rare collections in which every story is so superb you don’t want it to end. I’ve read an advance copy of one just like that recently.

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