After the Plague

After the Plague

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by T. C. Boyle

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Hailed as one of the best short story writers of his generation, T.C. Boyle presents sixteen stories—nine of which appeared in The New Yorker—that highlight the evolving excellence of his inventive, modern, and wickedly witty style. In After the Plague, Boyle exhibits his maturing themes through an amazing array of subjects in a range of


Hailed as one of the best short story writers of his generation, T.C. Boyle presents sixteen stories—nine of which appeared in The New Yorker—that highlight the evolving excellence of his inventive, modern, and wickedly witty style. In After the Plague, Boyle exhibits his maturing themes through an amazing array of subjects in a range of emotional keys. He taps today's headlines, from air rage ("Friendly Skies") to abortion doctors ("Killing Babies"), and delves into more naturalistic themes of quiet power and passion, from a tale of first love ("The Love of My Life") to a story about confronting old age ("Rust"). Combining joy and humor with the dark, intense scenarios that Boyle's audience has come to love, After the Plague reveals a writer at the top of his form.

Editorial Reviews

.. Los Angeles Times
In an age of war where the foe is indistinct and difficult to identify, Boyle has become the poet and the prophet of our time.
The short stories in T.C. Boyle's darkly entertaining collection appear to come from the morning newspaper. In "Friendly Skies," a woman is on an airplane when an obnoxious passenger, wielding a hot coffeepot, goes berserk in a fit of air rage. In "The Love of My Life," a pair of high school sweethearts, following the birth of their unwanted baby in a cheap motel room, dispose of the body in a Dumpster. And in "Peep Hall," a middle-aged man discovers that his young neighbor lives with several women in a house meant to resemble a college dorm, from which images are transmitted daily to a Web site.

Boyle's strategy is to draw on familiar, albeit peculiar, situations from popular culture—whether instances of Internet voyeurism or abortion-clinic violence—so that we can enter a world vicariously and witness, at close range, the outrageous behavior featured on Dateline or 20/20. These stories, however, are more than refashioned journalism. Fueled by irony, intelligence and a gift for dark comedy, Boyle, in lively, eloquent prose, delivers stories that are disturbing and violent yet make us laugh; stories that reflect contemporary culture yet remain artistically accomplished and inventive.

At the heart of about half of these works is a man in his thirties or forties who drinks too much and is alone and unfulfilled. A woman becomes the central object of his desire; however, personal demons, fueled by drugs or booze, lead him toward irresponsible and sometimes violent behavior. Not to be outdone, Boyle's female characters are equally destructive, though their impulses are more controlled; they channel their aggression into competition.

In one of thecollection's best tales, "Termination Dust," the narrator, Ned, is awaiting the arrival of 107 single women from California who have flown north to meet the men of Alaska, a state that, according to the story, boasts two eligible bachelors for every woman. Quickly falling for Jordy, an English teacher "with eyes the color of glacial melt," he hopes to outbid the others and claim her as his date at a charity auction. Unfortunately, he is outmaneuvered by his nemesis, Bud Withers, who recently lost his feet to frostbite and must now rely on prosthetics: "Every step he took looked like a recovery, as if he'd just been shoved from behind." After Bud whisks Jordy away to his remote cabin, Ned stages a dramatic rescue. What is most engaging about this comic tale is the eerie reversal Boyle introduces near the end, leaving us wondering who we should trust and root for.

Although Boyle is perhaps best known for novels like World's End and The Road to Wellville, his accomplishments as a short-fiction writer are arguably greater. Many of his stories (including nine of these sixteen) have appeared in The New Yorker, and his work turns up in the annual O. Henry Prize Stories and Best American Short Stories volumes. The author's burgeoning success may stem from an increased focus on character development. Boyle began his career in the late '70s as a rather cynical humorist—in the vein of John Barth and Thomas Pynchon—who wrote conceptual stories that were more clever than deeply felt. The stories in this collection, however, while retaining the humor and fecund imagination of the earlier works, are fuller and longer, and they give us psychologically and emotionally resonant characters. Though a few of these stories feel gimmicky and contrived, the best of them—"Termination Dust," "She Wasn't Soft," "Killing Babies," "The Underground Gardens," "After the Plague"—feature characters who have a tendency to stick around in our minds after their narratives end.

Like Don DeLillo, Boyle recognizes the strangeness of contemporary existence: the obsessions, mysteries, fears, self-delusions and frustrations. In "After the Plague," a somewhat whimsical postapocalyptic story (the narrator escaped the fatal Ebola mutation virus because he was isolated in the mountains), Boyle describes an abandoned California populated by a handful of paranoid survivors: "[T]here wasn't a soul in sight. If it weren't for that—and a certain creeping untended look to the lawns, shrubs and trees—you wouldn't have noticed anything out of the ordinary." While strange and disturbing, there's something about Boyle's America that is hauntingly familiar. He is that rare writer who can keep us entertained while revealing the barbarity and emptiness that lies beneath the surface of our world.
—James Schiff

Publishers Weekly
If Boyle's progress as a novelist has been uneven his more recent narratives have not managed to achieve the acclaim of 1990's East Is East his talent for crafting amusing and startling short stories has never been in doubt. This compilation (his fifth, not counting a collected volume) culls pieces published in the New Yorker, GQ and other outlets and showcases the signature elements of his fiction: darkly comic scenarios (a surly airline passenger goes berserk and a downtrodden elementary school teacher saves the day), pitiful and realistic characters (an Internet porn addict) and mundane but serious subjects (love, overpopulation, abortion). While there's not much new ground broken here, Boyle more than makes up for the relative lack of innovation by delivering his trademark dazzler endings. In "She Wasn't Soft," a triathlete's idiot boyfriend tries to atone for his wretched behavior by drugging her rival in a race, with potentially disastrous results. And in the title story, an apocalypse leaves only a handful of people on Earth; after a disastrous experience with another survivor, the narrator learns that, even in the worst of situations, love can prevail. Boyle has matured since 1995's Without a Hero: here he relies more on language than farce or shock value, describing the relationship between two lovers who "wore each other like a pair of socks," or, conversely, a college boy who enters a girl's room and feels "like some weird growth sprung up on the unsuspecting flank of her personal space." Boyle's imagination and zeal for storytelling are in top form here, making this collection a smash. Author tour. (Sept. 10) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In his sixth collection of short stories, Boyle presents a series of wickedly ironic, sometimes poignant, sometimes darkly humorous tales that speak directly to the human condition and to a variety of contemporary social issuesfrom abortion to Internet voyeur cams, from railway killers to air rage. Among the best are a wonderfully crafted tale about an elderly widowa beautiful old lady clothed in catsand another about an ex-rocker, ex-actor, surf-shop owner who finally loses his cool when faced with three teenage harassers and a smug jewel thief. Then there are the Black and White Sisters who seem determined to eliminate all color in their lives. Somewhat out of context, but no less touching, is the story of an Italian immigrant farmer who in 1905 purchases, sight unseen, 70 acres of California wasteland and loses his love but keeps on digging, never losing his vision of a better future. The final and title story focuses on four survivors of a disease-induced apocalypsea classic tale of can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em that leaves one smiling in spite of the circumstances. All in all this is classic Boyle, a work to be embraced by his enthusiasts and one that belongs in most collections of serious fiction. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/01.]David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, FL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Aging, estrangement, generational conflict, sexual rivalry, irrational violence-oh, and the destruction of the world as we know it: these are the recurring themes explored with mordant comic finesse in 16 exuberantly in-your-face stories. The predilection for daft high-concept premises displayed in such previous collections as Boyle's "If the River Was Whiskey" (1989) is still very much in evidence: a female triathlete's couch-potato boyfriend works out his hidden resentments ("She Wasn't Soft"); a divorced bartender succumbs to the charms of his nubile neighbors, a houseful of college girls whose intimate moments are broadcast for Internet subscribers ("Peep Hall"); and scattered survivors in a brave new world decimated by an Ebola-like virus reenact the idyll shared by Adam and Eve, complicated ever so slightly by the presence of an angry Other Woman (the lively title story). Boyle gives us his own jaded takes on familiar literary classics-Malcolm Lowry's "Under the Volcano "is amusingly skewered in "Mexico," and "The Black and White Sisters" impudently echoes William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily"-and rewrites a lurid real-life tabloid story of several years ago in "The Love of My Life." Feckless under-40s undergo farcical comeuppances in such haven't-we-been-here-before productions as "Killing Babies," "Death of the Cool," and "Termination Dust." Most interestingly, there's a repeated focus on middle-aged and older protagonists rudely awakened to grim evidence of their failing powers and inescapable mortality-as witness to the stroke victim who lies undiscovered in his backyard even after his wife stumbles to his aid ("Rust"), the aging novelist who tries and fails toreconcile with his resentful estranged son ("Achates McNeil"), and the ghost who watches sorrowfully as his surviving spouse grows ever further distanced from reality ("My Widow"). A bit darker and harsher, perhaps, than earlier collections, but on the whole pretty much the same kind of thing this writer has been cranking out since the late '70s. If you like Boyle, you won't be able to resist.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.08(w) x 7.74(h) x 0.71(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

T.C. Boyle is the author of eight novels and six short story collections, all available from Penguin. His 1987 novel, World's End, won the PEN/Faulkner Award. In 1999 he received the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. His short stories appear regularly in such magazines as The New Yorker, Granta, Esquire, and Playboy.

Brief Biography

Santa Barbara California
Date of Birth:
December 2, 1948
Place of Birth:
Peekskill, New York
B.A. in music, State University of New York at Potsdam, 1970; Ph.D. in literature, Iowa University, 1977

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After the Plague 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Boyle's After the Plague made my soul envious of this story and eager to read more of his works. The story is so simple that it makes one want to have crafted it one's self. Alternately horrifying and amusing to the point of surprised laughter out loud. I heartily recommend this title and this author; what a connoisseurial treat!
Guest More than 1 year ago
T. Coraghessan Boyle flaunts his witty word usage and blunt, hard, plots in his collection After the Plague. Boyle is the master of the unique phrases. This book deserves to be read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Once again, TC Boyle shows his mastery of writing. Each story completely draws the reader in hook line and sinker. Every story in the book is awesome. 'Going Down' is a veritable masterpiece. If you're a Boyle fan you won't be disappointed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've got to go with The Love of My Life as my favorite story in this knock-out collection. If you'll forgive the oxymoron, I think it's a tour de force in miniature; one of those golden feats where style, character, structure and tone all come together. Just look at the way the 'socks' reappear a few paragraphs after the opening line, this time not as simile but physical detail. (Who hasn't ever skated in their socks?) Or the way the screen villain's meat hook transmogrifies into 'so much cold meat.' Once we're hit with the infanticide, of course, the imagery follows suit. The judge's arms like 'bones twirled in a bag'; or a 'rinsed out sun'. All of this is to say nothing of the characters, mind you. How do you portray an unwitting teen delinquent with as much resentment as devotion for his lover? With a knock-out of a line like 'But why did she have to be so stupid?' of course. The story's laid out and narrated like some post-modern fairy tale: one can almost hear the implicit 'meanwhiles' between POV shifts, all perfectly timed. And the 'moral' -- 'as if that were all that mattered.' Man, if the inadequacy of love -- teen or otherwise -- has ever been as potently rendered on such a small canvas, please, someone, give me the author and story title.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have always been a big Boyle fan, and lots of these stories have already appeared in the New Yorker, but I have to say: in my opinion this is his best collection. The stories are shocking, contemporary, playful, funny and tragic -- typical Boyle at his finest. From the weirdness of 'The Black and White Sisters,' a twisted and sexy story about eccentric twins who will only surround themselves, in food, clothes, and company, with the colors black & white, which is surreal and funny and sad and has echoes of old TV and grim newspapers, to 'She Wasn't Soft,' or 'Termination Dust,' both of which are creepy, heartbreaking suspense stories which focus on grim character pieces and strong plot points, Boyle had me hooked from page one. If you like unforgettable characters, strong plot and contemporary issues, this is a must read. Plus it¿s funny. Five Stars! Bravo!