Wild Child

We meet quite a few drinkers in T. C. Boyle’s new story collection Wild Child.  One bar, for example, at 8am shelters “…congenital losers and pinch-faced retirees hunched over a double vodka as if it was going to give them back the key to their personalities….”  In another dive, “All you see, really, beyond the shifting colors of the TV, is the soft backlit glow of the bottles on display behind the bar dissolving into a hundred soothing glints of gold and copper.”    In yet another, “The door swung in on a denseness of purpose, eight or nine losers lined up on their barstools, the smell of cut lime and the sunshine of the run, a straight shot of Lysol from the toilet in back.”  Elsewhere, a knowing twelve year-old observes her father “sitting on a stool at the kitchen counter, sipping something out of a mug, not coffee, definitely not coffee.”

In the best of these fourteen stories, Boyle captures individuals as they straddle the gap between despair and escape:  the drunken, philandering father in “Balto;” the trapped new father in “The Lie;” the unhinged widower in “Thirteen Hundred Rats;” the woman enthralled by her plastic surgeon in “Hands On;” the woman who spends her days dog-sitting a cloned puppy in “Admiral.”  Comedy, often dazzlingly satirical, relieves the despair (few writers can make us both smile and squirm as Boyle does) while complacency is mercilessly skewered.   Whether the setting is affluent California, outlaw Venezuela or 19th-century France, each drama here is beautifully distilled to reveal the emotional truth at its core.