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T.C. Boyle (The Bat Segundo Show)

T.C. Boyle is most recently the author of San Miguel.

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Since Mr. Boyle has appeared four previous times on this program (Show #10, Show #70, Show #273, Show #385), we felt that it was essential to include him in Bat Segundo’s last stretch. This is the fifth and final conversation with T.C. Boyle.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Remembering his disastrous Diana-themed wedding ceremony to Doris.

Author: T.C. Boyle

Subjects Discussed: On being alive, the “Swiss Family Lester” article in Life, the advantages of working with scant details, not wishing to violate historical rules, Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, the quest for quotidian atmosphere on an island, constant description of the wind, imagining what it’s like to live away from everyone as a fantasy, visits to the Channel Islands, rough seas, Boyle’s ineptitude as a sailor, the mysterious rangers who live on San Miguel Island, people who camp on the Channel Islands, why anyone would want to lay down $10,000 on a questionable capitalistic venture, comparisons between East is East and San Miguel, underplayed racial tension in San Miguel, Japanese fishermen who visited the Channel Islands, muting the irony, working within deliberate limitations, writing about a location that is starved of art and culture, staying original and avoiding the tendency to repeat, “Birnam Wood,” writing realistic stories without irony, Boyle’s tendency to use women as characters despite his efforts to write about men, carryover from Talk Talk and When the Killing’s Done into San Miguel, using character more as a writer, how Boyle’s stories have changed in the last fifteen years, the forthcoming Stories Volume II, John Updike, refusing to make adjustments to stories, “This Monkey, My Back,” the Ransom archives, academic methods of cleaning the house, the difficulties of giving up elements of the past, letters that Boyle didn’t give to Ransom, the morality of burning love letters, hiding financial disclosure, seeing writers of the past on TV and radio, George Bernard Shaw, Boyle’s insistence that society won’t exist in 100 years, Jack Kerouac’s disastrous appearance on Firing Line, whether author appearances and legacy even matters, the desire for literary gossip, literary biography, Carol Sklenicka’s biography of Raymond Carver, Blake Bailey, Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child, San Miguel as the obverse experience from Boyle typically playing joyful god towards characters, keeping San Miguel confined to the island, human efforts to control nature, despair, being a nature boy, having a sense of isolation, Thoreau living in nature, Alcatraz and Angel Island, writing fiction in isolation on a mountain, using the Internet with iron discipline, fiction which emerges from America in a glum economic and political state, Brian Francis Slattery’s Lost Everything, having a more muted view in advanced age, maintaining a clean conscience, the amniotic fluid of civilization, the addictiveness of handheld devices, the usefulness of smartphones, Occupy Wall Street, whether the experience of nature is lost on most people, biologists who have praised When the Killing’s Done, the recent shutdown of California parks, simulation as a way to confront reality, the 1935 film version of Mutiny on the Bounty shot at San Miguel, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” Lord of the Flies, Francophilia, language and civilization as a coping mechanism, spinsters, the surprising hope near the end of San Miguel, Boyle’s next novel about violence, deviation during a novel, how newspaper paragraphs turn into stories, and fiction vs. journalism.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: I found this [handing over printout] — this “Pictures to the Editor” article from Life. I thought that you were just making this up, this whole “Swiss Family Lester” thing. But lo and behold, I found this. And I’m sure you found this before you had the Life reporter show up in your book. And this leads me to wonder. Because I was surprised by how skimpy this article was. I mean, I look at these photos and there’s plenty of information there for a writer of your sort to draw and infer and so forth. So this leads me to wonder. How much research do you need for something along these lines? Is it helpful to not have as many details? Or to just have a picture like this?

Boyle: Yeah, I wonder. That’s a great question, Ed. The first section of the book about the Waters family allowed me a little more freedom to invent. Because the diary from which I was working was fifty pages or less. Very fragmentary and only took up a six month period. With the Lesters, since they were very well known and were featured in Life Magazine and on radio shows all across the country, it was a little more difficult. Because I didn’t want to violate the actual events of history. But I think the two stories, in my mind anyway, blended fairly well.

Correspondent: So if you have to go ahead and abide by the rules of history, as a fiction writer you have to invent. I mean, does this get in the way?

Boyle: Yes. Well, this is a question with any of the historical novels. And I’ve written many, many historical novels and stories too. You don’t have to abide. You can do, for instance, what Philip Roth did in The Plot Against America. You can change anything. There are no rules whatsoever. You can have aliens come in in the middle of a realistic story. But usually when I’m giving historical elements, I love the true story so much that I want to give it to you. And usually it’s so bizarre. Like for instance, Stanley McCormick from Riven Rock or Alfred Kinsey or even Frank Lloyd Wright. The people I’ve written about. In this case though, I was trying, as you know, for something totally different and, as a companion piece to When the Killing’s Done, to give more of an atmospheric, moody, quotidian kind of approach to what it might have been like to be someone living on this island solely.

Correspondent: But then you have situations like constant descriptions of the wind. There’s a lot of wind in this book. This leads me to ask, well, what do you do to keep that original? I know that you are devoted to original prose, original description, and not wanting to repeat yourself. What do you do to keep that fresh?

Boyle: Aw shucks, Ed. I’m just flying by the seat of my pants. Everything works organically. And if it’s windy, it’s windy. You know, the book begins — for those who don’t know — with a series of very short chapters. This is a naturalistic book about people living on an island. And each one introduces a new element. And one of those elements is the fog, for instance. One is the wind. Many of them describe elements of the house: arriving at the house, the kitchen, the bedroom. It’s a way of my going deep inside these characters to imagine what it would have been like to live apart from everyone. I mean, this is a fantasy that so many of us have. Why the Lesters were famous in their day. Simply for living apart from the entire world on this island, in sole possession of it, during the Depression. When everybody else was lined up on the streets looking for a job.

Correspondent: Did you make any visits to San Miguel? I know you did that for Anacapa for the last book. Did you take in the terrain to know how to write about it? Especially when there are really no remnants of the homes, the domiciles, or even the sheep that actually appeared over there.

Boyle: Indeed yes, Ed. I made a single trip to San Miguel. Now I’ve made many, many trips, of course, to Santa Cruz and Anacapa, which were the setting of the previous book. As you know from having read San Miguel, this island is the farthest out and the most buffeted by the weather because of the currents. It’s not protected by Point Conception. It’s right off of it. So it’s getting everything coming down from the northern current from San Francisco, rumbling with the southern current coming up from Los Angeles and San Diego and spinning around in the Santa Barbara Channel. So it’s very, very rough seas. I’m told that I write very well about the seas, particularly in When the Killing’s Done, which opens with a shipwreck, as you remember. But I’m not a good sailor and my stomach doesn’t like being at sea. Especially in rough seas. Now it’s an hour and a half across to Santa Cruz in rough seas. But it’s four hours to San Miguel. And once you get there, you must stay in a campground for several days before the boat will come back to pick you up. I used a very, very simple stratagem to avoid this. I flew out. I flew out with the ranger, who is the sole person who lives there in the sole building on the island.

Correspondent: Well, that’s not exactly cricket if you want to mimic the experience.

Boyle: Well, of course, I have had the experience of going across the Channel many, many times.

Correspondent: Those extra hours, Tom.

Boyle: It’s true. It’s true. I never actually hung my head over and vomited. But I’ve been close on several occasions. I should say too, when I went to visit the ranger, I brought my son with me. I brought Marla Daily, the local historian who turned me onto all of this and published these diaries. And it was wonderful. Because the ranger himself is a historian of the place. And so is she. So I got to spend a full day with them looking at the rafters that were left in the ground of the old Lester house. There’s just a few remnants left. A little midden of cans and stuff. And just really get a sense of all of these places I had read about. And distances. And to walk all the trails. But what most intrigued me was that as you fly in, the beaches there — you’ve seen it probably on Walt Disney and the Discovery Channel — it’s a huge breeding ground for the elephant seal. And you see them, hundreds of them, lying below you like giant inflated sausages. And as soon as I got off the plane, I said to Ian, “Look, maybe I should be talking to Fish and Game instead of you. But is it a violation if I mate with one of the sea elephants?” And he didn’t miss a beat. He said, “You know, that’s a violation on every possible grounds.”

Correspondent: How long did the ranger live there? I mean, did you get to know him fairly well to get a sense…

Boyle: Well, I spent a day with him. A day and a night with him. He has to retire. He’s only like fifty or something. But they rotate them out. And I think he has to retire soon. But he’s been there for some years. And he’s not there permanently. I mean, he has relief. Because even people who like solitude might go a little nuts out there.

Correspondent: Well, as you depict in your book.

Boyle: A further statistic. In Santa Cruz Island — the big one, four times bigger than Manhattan, right across from Santa Barbara, you can see it right there — there is a public campground. And you can take this boat out and you can camp there. And I was told by the ranger there that some days, like a July 4th weekend, there might be as many as 300 people camping in that campground. On San Miguel, there are 300 campers per year. So it’s pretty remote.

Correspondent: It is a park, I understand.

Boyle: It’s part of the National Park. Yeah. All the Channel Islands are, with the exception of Catalina.

Correspondent: So if the ranger gets rotated out, and if you are only relying upon a fifty page diary or scraps or, in the case of the third part, considerable media attention — although that’s accentuated by the fact that suddenly they have electricity, suddenly they have radio and so forth — what do you do to mimic that experience of being trapped on an island? Do you go ahead and spend a week eating nothing but lamb? How does this work?

Boyle: I’m just using my imagination, of course. Again, in this one as a companion piece for When the Killing’s Done, which is so vibrant and wild and deals with a current ethical concern about how we treat animals and who has the right to do it and who owns the turf, here I wanted something much more muted, to give a kind of experience of what it must have been like. Because this is a fantasy of everybody. One of the memoirs — the one by Elise, Elizabeth Lester — is called The King of San Miguel. Herbie was the king. Who else is the king? It’s just him, his wife, and two kids.

Correspondent: Who wants to be the king?

Boyle: That’s another question. Who wants to be the king? And I think what intrigued me about the first diary, Marantha, and then the Lester book is that there were these tremendous correspondences between the two families, who were in sole possession of this. One in the 1880s and the other in the 1930s. Here are men who have a vision and really don’t take into consideration the costs on their wives. I think this is particularly true in the first one: Marantha’s story. Here was a woman. Upper middle class. Living in an apartment in San Francisco. Convinced by her husband to buy into this ship ranch. To buy essentially this island and live there and, of course, they make their living in the most essential way. They shear the sheep and sell the wool. What could be simpler? A life in nature. But everyone isn’t suited for that.

(Image: Teri Carter)

The Bat Segundo Show #492: T.C. Boyle (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: TC Boyle IV

TC Boyle appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #385. He is most recently the author of When the Killing’s Done. This is his fourth appearance on the program. He has previously appeared on The Bat Segundo #273, The Bat Segundo Show #70, and The Bat Segundo Show #10.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Considering a savage swim to the Channel Islands.

Author: T. Coraghessan Boyle

Subjects Discussed: Whether one can look dapper while being under the weather, Boyle’s powerful immune system, connections between Wild Child‘s stories and When the Killing’s Done, fishing expeditions gone awry, early subconscious efforts to hone the narrative framework, the short story “Anacapa,” “Question 62,” who has the ethical result to control all creatures, details on the next novel San Miguel, the Channel Islands, the bleak winds of San Miguel, straightforward historical narrative vs. exuberant adventure, Boyle’s prodigious description of hair, folk singers and massive hair, writing about women, Ruth Dershowitz in East is East and Dana in Talk Talk, basing When the Killing’s Done on news accounts without meeting anybody involved, Dave LaJoy and megalomaniacs, readers who take hard sides in response to the book, whether the portrayal of an exuberant megalomaniac causes an unintended ideological tilt, sympathizing with an animal rights activist, not being able to look at the PETA slaughterhouse videos, Diane Johnson’s essay in the New York Review of Books, whether Boyle’s sense of the ridiculous overcomes moments of gravity, the role of literature within Killing, Madame Bovary “in the Jean Renoir original,” Island of the Blue Dolphins, Boyle’s pessimism, being thrust into the lap of the existentialists, Jeffrey Dahmer, the comforts of irrelevance, Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” spirituality, feeling the pulse of nature and being humbled by it, Boyle’s pilgrimages, blocking out terrible news, the role of art in a nihilistic viewpoint, the geography of Santa Cruz and Anacapa, Boyle’s mother-in-law, the degree of geographical exploration required for Drop City and When the Killing’s Done, the Judas pig, Tom Wolfe’s journalistic approach to novel writing, passages written by “Boyle the historian,” being in the clear when using real people for fiction, when fiction is more real than reality, riffing on history, Home Depot as “the loneliest place in the world,” not having material goods, and escaping to the mountain.

EXCERPTS FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: I wanted to remark upon a recent essay by Diane Johnson in The New York Review of Books. I’m sure you’ve probably seen it by now.

Boyle: Yes, I have.

Correspondent: She wrote something that I happen to agree with. “Because his sense of the ridiculous usually overcomes his moments of gravity, he rarely departs from a comic mode that precludes tears even in the most tragic circumstances.” I think that this is a fair point, especially in this book. But if your book is informed with this sense of the ridiculousness, I’m wondering if this is going to impede upon writing in more serious or greater turf.

Boyle: It might. Which is precisely why I’m doing a non-comic straightforward historical narrative right now. Just to see how that might be and what might happen. Don’t forget. I’m the guy who wrote Water Music as my first novel, which turned the historical novel on its head and subverted and pulled the rug out and nudged you constantly about the unreliability of fiction and of history too. Now I am trying to write something without any irony or any comedy. Straightforward drama. Straightforward realism. Just because I’ve never done it before. I’ve done it in short stories. But I’ve never done it at length. And I found this wonderful story, a historical story, which I’m telling as best I can. We shall see what the results are. In fact, if we’re very lucky, you and I will be sitting here in three years discussing that one. And we’ll find out. (laughs)

Correspondent: Well, maybe we will. But I want to see if we can get to When the Killing’s Done and this problem of adopting the comic exuberant tone. I think this book does really present some very important issues, which we were getting to earlier, about how does humanity play god in the animal kingdom. I mean, this is a very serious topic. And the comedy is almost a mask over something which is — well, if you think about it from either side — really depressing. So I’m wondering if, in not permitting us to share tears (as Diane Johnson believes), it almost trivializes the issue to some degree. Does it present a problem? Or is your strategy more laying a few comic exuberant bombs to blow up in the reader’s head in about a week or so?

Boyle: Wow. Neither of the above. I’ll go for Choice C. I don’t see this as necessarily a comic novel. Certainly there are many varieties of comedy, of course. And I’ve used every possible mode I can think of. This has its moments, of course. And I think it allows the reader to stand back at times and view the characters with some kind of ironic detachment perhaps. But I don’t see this as essentially a comic novel. I see this as a dramatic novel. And further — and we’ve talked about this in the past — I often find that using the comic mode can be more emotionally wrenching then writing a straightforward drama. Because it subverts your expectations. And in this one. Well, look at the ending to this book. It should punch you right in the heart. I hope it does.

Correspondent: But I don’t know. From my standpoint, it read very much like a comic novel. To me. Particularly every time LaJoy came up. I mean, this guy is such a hilarious…

Boyle: Because he’s exaggerated to a degree. And yet, and yet, he’s also real. And I wouldn’t want to say, as I said earlier, that he represents a large part of me. But certainly that part is there. And certainly, Ed, we are both of us pretty much perfect and beautifully emotionally adjusted. But a lot of people out there are not. There are a lot of people out thee who make LaJoy look calm.

* * *

Correspondent: Do you have anything that you feel optimistic or joyful about?

Boyle: No.

Correspondent: No? Nothing optimistic?

Boyle: No. Since I discovered death at a very young age, it has obsessed me. And the whole purpose of our endeavors obsesses me. And in a larger scale, of course, our human endeavors on the planet, which will of course be burned to a cinder in there and a half billion years anyway. So what does anything matter? Etcetera. As I probably have said to you before, you know, I went from a Roman Catholic boy with god and his heaven and Santa Claus at the age of eleven or twelve or whatever, realizing that it’s all completely phony and it’s just some myth that we’ve been fed to prevent us from committing suicide at a young age. And within three or four years of that, I was thrust into the lap of the existentialists. And I’ve never come back.

Correspondent: Then is work really the only way, the only reason to stay alive?

Boyle: All work is irrelevant. Everything is irrelevant. Our conversation is irrelevant. Literature is irrelevant. Films, love, everything is utterly irrelevant in the face of utter meaninglessness and death. That’s what we live with. Everybody lives with every minute of every day. On the other hand, if you’re not going to shoot yourself tonight, do what satisfies you. What satisfies me is making literature and then sitting here with you talking about it. And also I have honor. I really believe in the power of literature and I like to promote it. I’ve never cheated anybody or hurt anybody — you know, that sort of thing. And that’s simply because that’s my own code. It doesn’t make me any worse than Jeffrey Dahmer, for instance.

Correspondent: Who’s dead.

Boyle: It’s just my point of existence.

(Image: Mark Coggins)

The Bat Segundo Show #385: TC Boyle IV (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: T.C. Boyle III

T.C. Boyle appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #273.

T.C. Boyle is most recently the author of The Women. To listen to our previous interviews with Mr. Boyle, check out The Bat Segundo Show #70 and The Bat Segundo Show #10.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Pondering new author taxonomies.

Author: T.C. Boyle

Subjects Discussed: How to conquer jet lag, Ellen Key’s The Woman Movement, the individual vs. the spirit of the time, feminism and Frank Lloyd Wright, notions of education, Miriam’s presence and hypercaffeinated prose, balancing the women in The Women, the ABAB narrative of the first section and Talk Talk, representing Wright through his women, novelizing a fictive novelist’s biography, Blake Bailey, the burdens of chronological order, parallels between Wright and Boyle, the question of what anybody really knows about history from hearsay, seeing the details through an ever-shifting prism, the novel as a suspect medium, Riven Rock, dashes, sentences, and parenthetical information, annotations and “the rest is commentary,” art standing above morality, balancing empathy and the satirical impulse, rejecting reader expectations, reputation and renown vs. not knowing, why cruelty is necessary, reevaluation, empathy and narcissism, and understanding an artist.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

boyleBoyle: I try to get it both ways. I try to involve you in something in a satiric way. And yet it should also move you. And of course, in this book, I had to do that because of the tragedy of Mamah, which will conclude the book. So you have to set the reader up for that throughout. And I think there is tragedy throughout the book. Tadashi’s life is incredibly tragic in many, many regards. So again, I’m playing one element against the other throughout. And there is commentary upon commentary upon commentary. And, for me, it opened up the structure and it made it fun. It made it invigorating. A lot of the footnotes exist to give you information that I would like you to know about Frank Lloyd Wright and his buildings and where he was at any given time. But a lot of them also, I just express surprise on the part of Tadashi. And I find the hilarious.

Correspondent: Well, the question is: Okay, the reader wants to know about the artist. And essentially you believe — your own particular view is — that the art should stand above any morality. This is interesting because we don’t know about the artists. And simultaneously, well, you do have many details about Taliesin, as well as the skies and the views and all that. But I’m curious if this almost runs counter to the impulse if you’re playing with the reader’s expectations. So that they will never know about the artist, even though this is, in fact, why they read your books. Whether that’s entirely fair to the reader.

Boyle: Well, don’t forget that when I am creating art, I don’t mean to be fair to the reader or unfair to the reader. Those questions lie right outside the parameters of what I’m doing. I’m dreaming something. I’m creating something for my own purposes. I deliberate to you. And I hope that you interact with it in some way. And obviously you do and other readers do. Sophisticated art, to my mind, doesn’t provide answers and doesn’t have an agenda other than art itself. So I think a book like this one, of all my books, is probably the one in which the reader will be most engaged to try and unravel the truth of what it is in its own right. And don’t forget. I’m not writing about an unknown figure here. Kinsey, as you know, was recognizable second only to the President in this country in his time. But by the time I wrote about him, everyone had completely forgotten who he is. No one knows who he is. And Kellogg too was lost to the mists of history. But again, Frank Lloyd Wright, there’s been a thousand books. There’s a cult. People are lined up in Chicago today, freezing, to get in and go on the tour. So this is someone who has been written about eternally and is very well-known. My interest is: How do I get a new angle on this?

Correspondent: So by him being more well known than Kinsey or Kellogg, you can then justify this notion of not knowing Frank Lloyd Wright. That’s what you’re saying. Of the reader not knowing.

Boyle: If this is your interpretation, I would say yes. But again, I think you do know him. You do see him from his point of view a few times. But I didn’t want to represent his point of view a great deal. Because then you know his motivation and you know what he’s thinking. I would rather have it — that’s why I called it The Women. I’d rather have him viewed from other perspectives so that you can make your own determination. And, yes, I think part of that determination is that he was incredibly narcissistic. Maybe one of the most narcissistic people who ever lived. And yet narcissism, as we talked about with regard to Peck Wilson in Talk Talk, can be very damaging to everybody around you. I like to hope and think that I am sympathetic to people whom I meet and with people who are close to me. And that far from damaging them, I might even be aiding them in some way. A narcissist like Frank Lloyd Wright though, or Kinsey or Kellogg, doesn’t view the world in that way. Everybody else is simply valuable, only as they fit into his regime. So I think that any reader, even the least sophisticated reader of this book, will have a portrait of Frank Lloyd Wright that may be more true than what you get from a biography.

(Photo credit: Christopher Felver)

BSS #273: T.C. Boyle III (Download MP3)

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BSS #70: T.C. Boyle II

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Author: T.C. Boyle

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Dubious of state lottery programs.

Subjects Discussed: Multiple genders, Lawrence Durrell, on whether Talk Talk is a thriller, Anthony Burgess’ The Right to an Answer, Graham Greene, identity theft, Milton, paranoia, jail, Cassie Chadwick, biometrics, capitalist society, why Talk Talk is set in a contemporary setting, cell phones, strangers in New York, on T.C. Boyle’s site being hacked, private conversations vs. public conversations, responding to critics, manipulative movie trailers, Amazon, harsh critics, the pitfalls of tennis, the competitive nature of writing, on reaching audiences, Boyle film adaptations, commercialism, Boyle’s two existences, showing vs. telling, tattoos on women, fun in writing, egrets, the original appendix to Talk Talk, the 1980s band Talk Talk, and ASL.

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A Boyle Manifesto

StorySouth: “But when you read Boyle’s fiction, you know the [Baby Boomer] generation for what it is: just a large number of individuals with individual stories and individual themes, all striving to live, love, and create something that will be remembered after they are gone. Thanks to the fiction of T. Coraghessan Boyle, the BB will be remembered in a much more truthful way than they could otherwise have any reason to hope for.” (via Dan Wickett)

T.C. Boyle’s Talk Talk, Part Four

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This post concludes our discussion of T.C. Boyle's Talk Talk. Previous discussion: Part One, Part Two and Part Three.]

Dan Wickett writes:

Ouch, nice shot at the age there Gwenda – The Road to Wellville in high school? I had been out of college for four years when it was published.

One thing I would absolutely recommend to those who are just getting into Boyle, or have only read his novels. Buy T.C. Boyle: Stories and sit down for a long weekend of enjoyment. Where each of us has pointed out a point or two in the novel where it may have slowed down – this does NOT ever happen in his short stories. They tend to have the energy and drive of the first chapter of Talk Talk.

I am not sure I agree with Gwenda about Boyle’s seeming lack of interest in Dana towards the end of the book, though I do agree with Megan’s comments that Boyle seems almost more sympathetic toward Peck than Bridger and Dana. I think that’s what led to my larger interest in the sections Peck was involved in than the others. While Boyle has been accused of not creating well rounded female characters in the past, I do believe by Drop City at the very latest, he should have had that reputation shucked (in fact the two most believable, well rounded, characters in Drop City, in my opinion, were females), and I think that holds here. I didn’t find Dana to be short shrifted in any terms of her character development. I just think Boyle became more fond of Peck throughout the novel and may have written his parts with a little more glee.

I do agree with Gwenda that some of the ordering of sections seemed a bit odd. A couple of times I was surprised he was looking at a scene from a particular character’s point of view – specifically some of the passages through the middle of the novel where Boyle took a peek at a scene from both Peck’s viewpoint and that of the Bridger/Dana combination. Once or twice it seemed that had he looked at the incident from the other point of view first, he might have been able to maintain more suspense and intrigue than by the ordering that he chose to write them in.

Getting back to my own original question, I agree with Megan – I think the merging of these two ideas – that of identity theft, and that of language – worked very well together, and beyond my few minor reservations mentioned above, I enjoyed Talk Talk quite a bit.

I respond:

There are lots of interesting points to respond to.

First, I wanted to clarify a theory I expressed before about Talk Talk as an anticapitalist tale. I think ideologies and systems are a very important part of this book. And I felt that the midsection was lumpy, not so much because the plot slows down, but because Boyle is still in the process of figuring out what’s wrong with his characters. He lays down the thriller plot in Part I, but Part II’s dramatic shift in perspective, to my mind, felt like an author who needed to figure out how he viewed the scenario holistically. But perhaps there’s nothing to figure out here and this is what causes the midsection to stall. Was Boyle caught between writing a thriller and writing a novel of ideas? Perhaps the world here should simply be experienced as presented. Gwenda noted that she could buy Dana and Bridger’s irrationality, but I’m wondering if this is because the world Boyle presents is devoid of any order or justice — in short, the very rationality that people like Dana, Bridger and Peck require to operate in. After all, in Boyle’s world, even the structure here that’s designed to protect us (identity protection, police, courts, government, et al.) can’t be relied upon. Could this what Boyle is getting at with Digital Dynasty? Remember, it’s not just special effects that this company is creating. They are adhering to some dubious cinematic mythology comparable to the Lord of the Rings movies.

This may explain (to address Megan’s point) why Peck becomes such a dynamic character, a man who feels that he’s entitled to everything, with his backstory gradually revealed to the reader. It is almost as if Boyle advocates Peck’s active (although severe) approach to wrestling with the world over Bridger’s. I mean, how else do you explain Bridger’s near quizzical state throughout the novel? There is Bridger’s preposterous sprint, which Boyle describes as “murderous, crazed — but for all that glad to be out of the car and away from her.” (179) So here’s the question I put forth to you folks. To what extent is Dana a reflection of the world’s crumbling ideologies? Or is Bridger simply a man constantly seeking escape? And is his need for escape the seminal problem here?

By contrast, Peck represents an extraordinary case of trying to divagate through the world by any means necessary. And while his actions are clearly solipsistic, unlike Bridger, Peck still seems to understand the world on some crude palpable level. He knows the stare. He is able to influence people. He’s able to live in a condo. As crudely functioning as he is, he does know how to steal another person’s identity. Is this then his only skill? Or has the world’s irrationality led him to this desperate behavior?

Like Gwenda, I also had issues with Dana’s sixth sense. But if we look beyond this novel as a thriller and more of a metaphysical piece, perhaps this is a catty suggestion that having a hunch of how to proceed in life is better than just floating by or being led by other people (the anger Dana feels toward Bridger that Megan intimated at). Perhaps this might also account for the book’s reliance upon coincidence. If Boyle’s conclusion here involves humans who are better off operating in a random way than not at all, it’s an interesting castigation against slackers. I suggest castigation, because no one here has remarked upon the “two super-sized white women with unevenly dyed hair — travelers like themselves — who were staring moodily down at the foil-wrapped remains of their burritos and clutching bottles of Dos Equis as if they were fire extinguishers.” (120) This struck me as particularly cartoonish, even by Boyle standards — almost Tom Wolfe-like. But perhaps the contrast is necessary in order to provoke the comparison (“travelers like themselves”). Twenty years down the line, will Dana and Bridger end up like these two displaced women? Or is this too heavy-handed an approach?

Also, nobody has remarked upon the egret question. Care to proffer a theory?

[NOTES: While our motley group didn't find the answers to some of these questions, Our Young, Roving Correspondent was fortunate to talk with Mr. Boyle this week and addressed many of these issues to him in person. They will appear in an upcoming Bat Segundo podcast. Interestingly enough, OYRC learned that the original version of Talk Talk submitted to Viking contained an appendix which featured Wild Child, the novel that Dana was working on. Boyle excised this from the book at Viking's request. But Boyle completists should take note that McSweeney's #19 contains this fragment. OYRC suggested to Boyle that he might want to include this in the paperback edition of Talk Talk. We shall see what transpires.]

T.C. Boyle’s Talk Talk, Part Three

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The table spins round and round. Where she stops, nobody knows! Today, Megan Sullivan and Gwenda Bond throw their respective hats in the ring. Previous discussion: Part One, Part Two and Part Four.]

Megan writes:

Ed and Dan, you’ve both obviously read a great deal of Boyle’s previous books. It’s interesting to see how you both picked up on things that never even occurred to me because I have no such experience. I am a Boyle virgin — or was for that matter. I had always thought much like Dan said: “Early in Boyle’s career, he was frequently accused of being a writer more concerned with flash and not with substance. He was often described as a writer with incredible skill, willing to write about anything… and would do so with every writing pyrotechnic available.” But I also kept meeting people who swore Boyle was one of the greatest authors writing today. I’m glad I’ve finally started reading him because he does seem to love both wordplay and great characters.

Ed, I think your question about whether or not Boyle relied on coincidences too much is a good one. I think he did to a certain degree, but I don’t know that the book suffered too much for it. If anything, this book seemed implausible from the get go and required a certain leap of faith. You both mention Dana and Bridger’s finances as they travel cross country. Exactly! Where’s all the money come from? Also just the plausibility of being able to track Peck down so quickly. Maybe I am underestimating the technology, but at least when they lost them in the car at the beginning of the chase and happened to find them again later on the road? Far fetched.

But beyond all of that, I still kept reading. What I liked about this book was that it was a novel of ‘ideas’ and was still immensely readable. Perhaps Dan is right when he notes that Boyle seems like the kind of author who writes about whatever interests him, regardless of genre or not. I can see him reading an article in the paper about identity theft and Boyle taking that idea and running with it. How else do you explain Peck? He seems more sympathetic toward the “villain” Peck, than to the victims Dana and Bridger (I say almost).

In the beginning, you’re supposed to empathize with Dana, I think, as she’s being arrested. Poor deaf girl, victimized again, or something like that. Yet as the novel progresses, Dana’s character is more fleshed out. She’s full of anger and rails against Bridger when he fails her basically by being human. She’s also very Don Quixote-esque in her pursuit of Peck. Nothing gets in the way, until the end when Bridger gets hurt and she sees what her pursuit has wrought.

Dan, I think the topics of of identity theft and language went well together. Having no voice can be construed as something like having no identity (perhaps to those who have their hearing anyway). What were your thoughts on the topic?

Sorry to cut it short, but I have to run off to an appointment and I want to get this sent off without more delay.

Gwenda writes:

Similar to Megan, I had only limited experience with Boyle’s work prior to this. I read The Road to Wellville in high school and then Drop City a couple of years ago, but nothing more (other than a stray interview or essay here and there about teaching writing). Reading this novel was a strange experience for me, because I did most of it waiting around an emergency room on a Saturday night — the heightened nature of the novel matched the surroundings almost as if I’d planned it (even though it was a coincidence — more on those later).

I too was blown away by the first few chapters. I think literary fiction has a somewhat justified reputation as often starting off slowly, deemphasizing the narrative. Dana’s arrest and subsequent incarceration, and to a lesser extent Bridger’s experience not being able to help her, are showstoppers. It takes, as they say, cojones to kick off a novel so strongly, because where do you go? How do you top that beginning? And, really, I think he doesn’t.

Talk Talk is a fine novel that borrows lots of thriller conventions, including motoring at a break-neck pace designed to discourage too many questions about the why and how of things happening that are credulity-straining. For the most part, Boyle pulls that off — especially, for me, when he’s holding on Bridger and Dana. I can believe their irrationality. The coincidences and actions that seem to just be needlessly risky on the part of Peck Wilson were much harder to buy for me (you’re busted for stealing Dana’s identity so you steal her boyfriend’s? you agree to take your fiance who doesn’t even know your real name to your mother’s house? the only justification that I can buy for these behaviors is the old cliche “he wants to be caught,” and I don’t believe Peck does).

Dan found the Peck Wilson character more engaging, but after those opening chapters I was more drawn to Dana. The biggest problem I had with the novel as it progressed was losing the immediacy of Dana’s point-of-view. She seemed less and less present as the novel went on (and this is likely intentional, I realize, and tied to the inability-to-communicate theme) and several times I was surprised by the order and point-of-view Boyle chose to reveal certain scenes in. This is particularly the case with the climactic scenes after Bridger is injured. It felt like Boyle became less interested in Dana as the novel went on, and far more interested in the male leads. I would have preferred more Dana. It’s her story I ultimately wanted to experience, after the devastation she suffers at the beginning.

I love the energy and flow in the writing, which I’m taking is a hallmark of Boyle’s. It marries especially well to the thriller plot, although, yes, some of the questions we’re left asking — where did Bridger and Dana get all that money? — the writing is simply not quite pyrotechnic enough to stave off. But almost. I suspect that one of the things Boyle’s trying to do here is mirror just how out there some of these identity theft cases become for the people involved, but in fiction the kind of coincidences and brazenness and hunches that people experience in real life mostly don’t come off believably. Dana’s sudden sixth sense that allows them to catch the criminal faux nuclear family eating at the restaurant after they’ve lost them is a prime example. That’s a tough sell and doesn’t quite make it. Emotionally, though, I think Boyle manages to get the reader to buy most everything, including the deep flaws in all the main characters. (Though, again, Peck is still somewhat of an enigma to me — his characterization is either too complex for his base motivations or not explicit enough to make his actions completely buyable.) They’re all stubborn and self-involved to varying extents at different times in the story. The self-entitlement issue is definitely something they all struggle with — and that includes Bridger, though to a far lesser extent than the others.

As for literary writers dabbling in genres more openly… There’s just not the stigma that there used to be. To a certain extent, it’s happening because it can, with no ill consequences or injury to the writer’s literary reputation.

T.C. Boyle’s Talk Talk, Part Two

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Our roundtable discussion of T.C. Boyle's Talk Talk continues, with Edward Champion jumping into the fray and Dan Wickett offering further thoughts. Part One can be accessed here. Here's Part Three and Part Four]

Ed writes:

Talk Talk reminded me very much of Anthony Burgess’s spy thriller novel, Tremor of Intent. Like Burgess, Boyle is a literary author approaching a “lowbrow” genre with the intention of skewering it, only to learn midway through the novel that he must embrace its machinations instead of mocking them. I don’t know about you folks (and perhaps some of the more genre-blind participants might want to offer a few words here), but I find it extremely interesting when this happens. Updike ventured into these waters a bit with Terrorist, with mixed but by no means completely terrible results. And I’m extremely curious about John Banville’s upcoming mystery novel (under the pseudonym Benjamin Black). This is a side issue, but what do you think accounts for this recent rise of literary authors (and particularly Boyle) flirting with genre? Personally, I don’t believe that this is entirely a question of writers wanting to draw more money and awareness.

My feeling is that Boyle, despite a lumpy midsection, eventually figured out a way to fuse his penchant for troubled humans (and certainly Peck Wilson comes across as a farcical foe) with a gripping cross-country thriller. I could quibble over the dubious economics that permit Dana and Bridger, both of them unemployed, with scant savings and with tarnished credit histories, to chase Peck Wilson. Nevertheless, I found myself drawn to the vengeful rage, both justified and petty, common to all of the characters in the book. There was something tragicomic about the police and the courts being useless and unsympathetic in exacting justice, forcing the characters to operate self-sufficiently in a state of anarchy. But here, there are wry parallels of self-entitlement that Boyle draws between Dana and Peck. Peck, of course, is concerned primarily for his self-interest, arising from past circumstances where he has been humiliated and believing that he is entitled to luxury condos, fine restaurants, and the like. He struck me as a sad but strangely amusing character. But Dana is also solipsistic about her need for personal justice and insists on Bridger accompanying her, berating him for having the temerity to fail or for being a flawed human. I should note that this is Boyle’s first novel set in the present since The Tortilla Curtain and, like that novel, Talk Talk also explores issues of shifting ideologies and personal contempt, with Boyle hoping to take on his issue from two perspectives. Did you folks feel that these two characters offered a sufficient comparison and contrast on these points? Did Boyle’s points about the many shades of self-entitlement work for you? And I’m also curious if you folks felt that Boyle went a little over-the-top to make his points. I didn’t mind this flamboyance (with Boyle, it often comes with the territory), but given the more nuanced feel of Drop City and The Inner Circle, it was a bit eye-popping to see him return to such a wild narrative.

I also wanted to address Dan’s interesting observation that Boyle sees human animals as part of the food chain, at the mercy of environmental vagaries. But if the author is the one responsible for plotting the world that the characters inhabit, one can draw a corollary between this and another of Boyle’s qualities: a tendency to play cruel god, flinging his characters into horrible fates — sometimes of their own making, sometimes because of the world’s circumstances. This extends to the merciless Alaskan environment in Drop City or the coyotes who eat Delaney Mossbacher’s lapdogs in The Tortilla Curtain.

To weave this question of cruelty into Talk Talk, both Dana and Bridger are very much victims of the environment they live in. But I think that the environmental struggle this time around arises more from personal decisions: both theirs and others. It couldn’t be any clearer with the amusing metaphor of Bridger toiling at a job in which he creates artificial environments for a visual effects company. But there is also a dog-eat-dog feel, perhaps a sly reference to the rugged Western frontier, in which individuals are at the mercy of other individuals’ vagaries. Rather interestingly, a good deal of the oppressive forces here are employers. Dr. Koch is particularly unsympathetic to Dana’s false arrest. Radko is a little more helpful, but, with him, it’s about the bottom line of getting a movie done. I suspect that Boyle’s concern here resides more with how capitalism or some of society’s undercurrents enslave identity, but what do you folks think?

I slightly disagree with Dan about the humor. I thought the humor wasn’t so much insider in nature, but that it had much to do with these characters being unable to get a feel for the environments they’re trying to negotiate. Bridger, for example, can’t even recognize the country that Radko is from and complains when he can simply ask Radko this question. And then there’s Peck resorting to the hard prison look, believing that he can exist on intimidation alone. And I was also amused by Boyle’s sly suggestion that operating in the world isn’t so much about clinging to one’s job or credit cards, but about breaking out of the routines and actually getting to know people. Bridger, for example, learns a good deal about Dana that he hasn’t bothered to ask about. Dana isn’t the only deaf person in this book. It seems indeed that the characters here are all deaf in their own ways. (Consider the two African-Americans near the end of the book who get pissed off at the police. They are rather interestingly glossed over.)

And I think I’ll curb my rambling here and open the floor to you folks. (And, Dan, I will get to some of your other points in the next email.) For now, I’ll proffer two more questions:

Did you folks feel that Boyle relied too much on coincidences and unexpected run-ins to drive the plot? Did this, in your view, hinder the story or prevent you from being interested in the self-discovery at work here?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

P.S. What did you make of the egrets?

Dan writes:

As to your quick side issue up front about literary writers venturing into genre, I was immediately reminded of a response Daniel Woodrell gave to a question I posed to him about how reviewers looked at his own work:

But the key to how I am viewed seems to be based on the fact that my first book was a crime novel- and to some critics that’s it, you are forever genre or genre trying to crawl to the brighter lights, or whatever, if you start in genre. The reverse is not true, the assumption being that anybody who can write mainstream stuff about that dicey year in prep school, or how Big Sally and her fried yellow cheeseballs became the heart and soul of Stage Right, Alabama, can surely master the requirements of genre in a long weekend. There are, however, the bleached bones of many a mainstream potentate who underestimated the undertaking lying beside the ol’ popular fiction trail, my friend.

I’ve not read the new Updike, nor the forthcoming Banville/Black, but believe Boyle’s venture may just be the product of the topics that interested him this time around. If there’s a literary author around willing to admit to wanting to draw more awareness more than Boyle, I’m unaware of who it might be, but don’t believe that wanting has ever determined the path for his work.

As to the “lumpy midsection”, first, I couldn’t agree more with you over the dubious financial means Dana and Bridger would have had to allow them to make this cross country drive. It was something that absolutely detracted from my reading of those sections of the novel as the question grew larger and larger throughout. Second though, I do think any midsection was going to be at least a small drop after the opening chapter – I’ve re-read Dana Halter’s arrest and subsequent scenes a few times now and am amazed at the job Boyle did with it.

I think the comparison of Peck and Dana and their self-entitlement is a great one. Even with the problems that befell Peck earlier in his life, I think the two characters were sufficiently different enough in what led to their self-entitlement, as well as how much entitlement I as a reader felt they deserved. I didn’t really think Boyle went too far over the top, though, in my mind, I may be comparing this work more with older work like World’s End and Heart of a Champion than with more recent efforts like Drop City or The Inner Circle.

I do wonder about Boyle’s views on capitalism and how it affects the identity of employees within the system. Dr. Koch, and his reaction to Dana’s arrest, was nearly as difficult for me to believe as the fact that Dana and Bridger could afford their traveling. With no back history of Dana being a poor employee or anything else, it is one of the things that seemed way over the top. I thought Radko and his reactions seemed quite fitting for what was going on in his employee’s world. Even Peck, in his pre-convict life, had run-ins with his own boss at the restaurant he ran.

While the humor may not have been so much, insider humor, I guess my bigger question was where was Boyle’s standard black humor?

As to Ed’s question of coincidences, while there certainly were many, it didn’t affect my reading. Or, if it did, it wasn’t nearly as much as the fact that Dana and Bridger shouldn’t have had any money, or Dr. Koch’s crazy reaction to Dana’s imprisonment.

T.C. Boyle’s Talk Talk, Part One

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Here begins this week's roundtable discussion of T.C. Boyle's Talk Talk. Our first participant was none other than Dan Wickett, who offers this opening salvo. Part Two can be accessed here. Part Three is here. Part Four is here.]

Talk Talk is T.Coraghessan Boyle’s 11th novel and I believe it maintains some traditional TCB aspects. There is a running theme through Boyle’s work that humans are, like all other animals, part of the food chain – both predators and prey, and Talk Talk, with the storyline of a deaf woman having her identity stolen by an ex-con continues that nicely. There is also the steady, wonderful, description of nearly every meal eaten throughout the story, as the not-so-hidden foodie in Boyle can’t help but leech its way into his writing. We also have our usual need for reading Boyle’s work with a dictionary next to us on the couch as he tosses words previously unfamiliar to me at least, Exopthalmia, autophagic, and others with similar numbers of syllables, throughout the work.

Early in Boyle’s career, Boyle was frequently accused of being a writer more concerned with flash and not with substance. He was often described as a writer with incredible skill, willing to write about anything (as in say his short story, “Heart of a Champion,” where Lassie allows a randy coyote to chew little Timmy’s hand nearly off and then runs away with the coyote, or “The Champ” a story about a round by round heavyweight championship between two eaters) and would do so with every writing pyrotechnic available. This accusation, or complaint, was still being lobbed, unfairly in my opinion, at Boyle in what at this point would be considered the middle of his career (novels such as World’s End through The Road to Wellville and the stories being written at that time).

Ever since The Tortilla Curtain came out though, he’s been given a higher standing in the literary community by national critics (though the earlier World’s End did win the PEN/Faulkner award, it wasn’t until The Tortilla Curtain that the majority of critics didn’t toss in a line or two about Boyle’s writing flamboyancy on a regular basis) – seeing his novel Drop City named as a finalist for the National Book Award and receiving the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction.

Even while being considered a more mature writer, Boyle has still usually maintained the inclusion of a fairly significant level of black humor in his work. I thought Talk Talk was different in terms of that from even his most recent prior efforts. The humor throughout seemed more insider humor – the deaf woman, Dana Halter, whose identity is stolen has a boyfriend, Bridger Martin. Bridger works at Digital Dynasty, a CGI company and there are a lot of little inside shots at the industry and those working in it. But the humor, to me, is nowhere near the level of dark, insidious humor Boyle is typically known for.

This led me to wonder if, in suppressing this aspect of his writing, Boyle may have learned towards favoring the darker elemented characters in Talk Talk? What ensues after an incredible opening chapter where Dana Halter is pulled over for a routine traffic citation and goes through an Ed Champion-like experience of being dragged to prison, which leads to she and Bridger finding out her identity had been stolen, is a cross-country chase as they believe the thief is headed to Peterskill, New York (home to previous Boyle works and believed to be a fill-in for the place of his growing up).

Boyle rotates sections of this chase between what is going on with Peck Wilson, the thief, and his family, and scenes of Dana and Bridger traveling. I found myself counting the number of pages remaining in the Dana and Bridger sections, anxiously awaiting getting back to Peck’s story. Could Boyle possibly have subconsciously made the “bad” guy in the story the most interesting character while nearly eliminating black humor?

I’m also curious to hear everybody’s thoughts on Boyle’s meshing of two pretty big topics – identity theft and the idea of language and conversation that he created by having the initial identity theft victim being deaf. Was it a good blend, or were there two stories within that could have been served better tackled in individual efforts? More from me on that later, but I’m looking forward to hearing all of your initial thoughts on Talk Talk.

The Bat Segundo Show #10

Author: T.C. Boyle

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Terse, conserving energies for a drink.

Subjects Discussed: Boyle as one of the original bloggaz, how Boyle arranges his short stories for his collections, John Cheever, how Boyle got into the New Yorker, the current state of the short story market, the future of literature, country music, historical fiction vs. contemporary fiction, the comparisons between “The Doubtfulness of Water” and Water Music, Boyle’s working methods and the “continuous first draft,” the frequency of watering holes in Boyle’s stories, community at T.C. Boyle websites, details on Talk Talk, the influence of history upon fiction, how The Human Fly came to be, political subtext, The Bonehunters’ Revenge by David Rains Wallace, observing people and balancing time, the ethics of creating characters based on people, on being prolific, the T.C. Boyle website, the media perception of literature, the New York Times Book Review (Chip McGrath vs. Sam Tanenhaus), the influence of book reviews on writing, reevaluating writers generations later, The Inner Circle vs. Bill Condon’s Kinsey, Boyle’s “continuous first draft” before computers, technology’s influence upon culture and writing, the spoken and visual dimensions of fiction, on being a “nutball perfectionist,” and the joys of the word “ventricose.”

Play

Hiatus (Sorta)

We’ve been working our keisters off here. Two Segundo shows in the works (one we hope to get up tonight with a very special guest), with a third one on the way. So literary news and the like are going to be slow for the time being. Bear with us.

In the meantime, please enjoy:

  • Mark Sarvas talking with John Banville, Part I.
  • Bud Parr’s response to A.O. Scott’s NYT article comparing The Believer and n + 1.
  • Laura Miller’s humorless response to T.C. Boyle’s excellent new short story collection, Tooth and Claw. (Yes, Scott, I know, I told you it was “a mixed bag,” but that was on the basis of reading the first three stories, only one of which was so-so. Since then, the collection has picked up remarkably and I recommend it to all RotR readers looking to restore their faith in the short story, if not for the deliciously caustic finale of “Jubilation” and the near perfect “The Swift Passage of the Animals” alone, the latter being a witty depiction of dating loaded with nuance and quiet metaphors that are apparently quite invisible to Ms. Miller.)
  • Laila Lalami reviews Desertion in The Nation.

RIP Mr. Monitor

Our monitor is at death’s door, we won’t be able to replace it for a few days, and we’re overwhelmed by the stunning response regarding the Star & Buc Wild post. Factor in the other things we’re doing, and this has resulted in an uphill battle in email responses and regular bloggin. But for now, here are some highlights from the literary world:

  • As noted widely elsewhere (and kept under wraps with great glee here), many congratulations to Laila.
  • Birnbaum interviews T.C. Boyle. It starts off with the question, “Do people call you Tom?” We have to confess that we’ve been asked that question a few times ourselves, albeit in entirely different circumstances.
  • On the Star & Buc Wild front, thanks to the efforts of Devalina Guha-Roy, WUSL-FM‘s reaction has made the Philly Inquirer. There have been more than 130 e-mails and phone calls. Of course, the problem isn’t the broadcast or Star’s antics, but the “insensitive” employee who posted the clip online. Clearly, WUSL hasn’t gone nearly far enough to ensuring that “racially inflammatory” programming on this level won’t occur again. What’s particularly interesting is that Star & Buc Wild’s move to WWPR has elicited more publicity. It seems that in the wake of Star’s disgraceful banter, his publicist decided to issue a press release.
  • John Intini suggests that this generation has become too “resourceful” and suggests that readers of Arts & Letters Daily, McSweeney’s and bloggers in general are as bad as Trivial Pursuit junkies. We think he’s onto something, but we’re wondering what’s wrong with having a capacious storehold upstairs? Granted, when such brainpower is reduced to remembering Usher lyrics, it’s a considerable problem. But we can think of far worse things to remember and recite than, say, a passage from a Jonathan Lethem novel.
  • Lip Service is a UK-based theatrical and radio group who transmogrify literary classics. They sound like a lot of fun.
  • Is Patrick White Australia’s most unreadable novelist?

Deaths, Revivals and Roastings

Historian and one-time Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin has passed on. Boorstin was best known for his American trilogy and his fascinating books on human innovation. (I highly recommend The Discoverers and The Seekers.) One read a Boorstin book for the best of reasons: to ride a journey across human progress with an enthusiastic mind eager to make connections. Boorstin was an American James Burke, adept at showing the strange way in which the world was charted and everyday things were created. He’ll definitely be missed.

T.C. Boyle’s enemies are dying off. Less people hate Boyle now more than ever before. I remain optimistic. There will come a day when there are more Boyle lovers than haters.

Now who honestly expected to see Kate Christensen profiled in the Post? It’s difficult to say whether this is an effort to woo people who are disappointed by the increasing non-literary direction of the NYTBR. Personally, I welcome feverish Post headlines like VIDAL REVIVES BRAWL WITH MAILER or ZADIE SMITH ROASTS CHICKLIT AUTHORS OVER SPIT.

John Lescroart whines that he doesn’t get any respect. Dude, shut up. You’ve sold 10 million books.

So Chip McGrath (and literary coverage) can be found now in the magazine?

Robert Silverburg has received the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award. He plans to address the Nebula Awards with maniacal laughter.

Dick and Jane are being brought out of retirement. This time, the books are being mined for nostalgia rather than education. USA Today insists that, “Still, in their day, Dick and Jane were cutting-edge.” I beg to differ. Unless Dick and Jane are supporting a love nest, complete with tops and bottoms, Jane getting the bukkake treatment, and Dick tied up, standing naked against a pilaster, unless Jane ends up in a halfway house and Dick has a heroin problem, unless Dick gets a mohawk, or Jane gets a nipple piercing, they will remain hopelessly unhip by-products of a more innocent time. Which is not to say that I have any specific contentions against Dick and Jane. I love their simple dorky intonations and their carefree concerns. Just don’t go around calling them the new black. That’s all I’m saying.

The Guardian on Garrison Keillor’s latest: “Misogynistic, full of literary in-jokes and unwilling to tackle real emotion, I suspect fans of this novel will be restricted to Larry Wylers the world over, which isn’t such an insignificant readership judging by the number of puffa jackets on the streets.” Ouch.

A sign that creative book coverage isn’t dead: Frank Wilson looks to be positioning himself as a qurkier Yardley. He asks the world why the 1921 novel, Memoir of a Midget, isn’t better known. The great thing is that he’s actually serious.

And Christopher Hitchens spares no words for Mel Gibson. Except Maureen Dowd was there with the association first.