A writer of “protean imagination,” T.C. Boyle dazzles readers with his wildly inventive plots, black comedy, and incongruous mixture of the mundane and the surreal. The author of nine novels and six collections of fiction, Boyle’s latest work, The Inner Circle (2004), is inspired by Dr. Alfred Kinsey, the infamous, pioneering researcher in human sexuality. Last year’s Drop City—the tale of a 1970s hippie commune—was a New York Times bestseller and was marked by the kind of craftsmanship that “has earned him a reputation as one of our best writers.” Born in Peekskill, New York, to Irish immigrant parents, Boyle describes his childhood as full of rebellion and rock ’n’ roll. The rebellion of his youth now surfaces in his approach to fiction. He writes, “I don’t want you to pick up any of my stories or books and have any idea what it’s going to be.” And thus, each new book has a trace of the unpredictable, a delightful wildness, and a raw humanity.
Boyle received the PEN/Faulkner Award for his novel World’s End, and the PEN/Malamud Award for excellence in short fiction. His stories appear regularly in the New Yorker, Harper’s, and Esquire. An alumnus of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Boyle also has a Ph.D. in nineteenth-century literature. He teaches at the University of Southern California and lives near Santa Barbara.
Exerpt from Drop City (2003)
The morning was a fish in a net, glistening and wriggling at the dead black border of her consciousness, but she’d never caught a fish in a net or on a hook either, so she couldn’t really say if or how or why. The morning was a fish in a net. That was what she told herself over and over, making a little chant of it—a mantra—as she decapitated weeds with the guillotine of her hoe, milked the slit-eyed goats and sat down to somebody’s idea of porridge in the big drafty meeting room, where sixty shimmering communicants sucked at spoons and worked their jaws.
Outside was the California sun, making a statement in the dust and saying something like ten o’clock or ten-thirty to the outbuildings and the trees. There were voices all around her, laughter, morning pleasantries and animadversions, but she was floating still and just opened up a millionkilowatt smile and took her ceramic bowl with the nuts and seeds and raisins and the dollop of pasty oatmeal afloat in goat’s milk and drifted through the door and out into the yard to perch on a stump and feel the hot dust invade the spaces between her toes. Eating wasn’t a private act—nothing was private at Drop City—but there were no dorm mothers here, no social directors or parents or bosses, and for once she felt like doing her own thing. Grooving, right? Wasn’t that what this was all about? The California sun on your face, no games, no plastic society—just freedom and like minds, brothers and sisters all?
Star—Paulette Regina Starr, her name and being shrunk down to four essential letters now—had been at Drop City for something like three weeks. Something like. In truth, she couldn’t have said exactly how long she’d been sleeping on a particular mattress in a particular room with a careless warm slew of non-particular people, nor would she have cared to. She wasn’t counting days or weeks or months—or even years. Or eons either. Big Bang. Who created the universe? God created the universe. The morning is a fish in a net. Wasn’t it a Tuesday when they got here? Tuesday was music night, and today—today was Friday. She knew that much from the buzz around the stewpot in the kitchen—the weekend hippies were on their way, and the gawkers and gapers too—but time wasn’t really one of her hangups, as she’d demonstrated for all and sundry by giving her Tissot watch with the gold-link wristband to an Indian kid in Taos, and he wasn’t even staring at her or looking for a handout, just standing there at the bus stop with his hand clenched in his mother’s. “Here,” she said, “here,” twisting it off her wrist, “you want this?” She’d never been west before, never seen anything like it, and there he was, black bangs shielding his black eyes, a little deep-dwelling Indian kid, and she had to give him something. The hills screamed with cactus. The fumes of the bus rode up her nose and made her eyes water.
Selected WorkThe Inner Circle (2004)Drop City (2003)T.C. Boyle Stories (1998) The Tortilla Curtain (1995) The Road to Wellville (1993)If the River Was Whiskey (1989)World’s End (1987)Greasy Lake (1985)Descent of Man (1979)
LinksT.C. Boyle’s website, with interviews, articles, and photos
A conversation with T.C. Boyle