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As the book opens, in 2025, our hero, Tyrone O'Shaughnessy Tierwater, baby boomer, ex-radical environmentalist, ex-con, ex-father, widower and divorce, is seventy-five and battling to stay afloat in the rising Social-Securityless waters of a meteorologically-challenged society. He is working as an animal keeper for a wealthy but faded rock ...
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As the book opens, in 2025, our hero, Tyrone O'Shaughnessy Tierwater, baby boomer, ex-radical environmentalist, ex-con, ex-father, widower and divorce, is seventy-five and battling to stay afloat in the rising Social-Securityless waters of a meteorologically-challenged society. He is working as an animal keeper for a wealthy but faded rock star who maintains a menagerie of some of the last specimens of formerly wild ex-wife, Andrea Cotton, comes back into his life after a twenty-three year absence. He is reluctant to get involved, but intrigued too. He makes an assignation with her for that very night at Ahigetoshi Swenson's Catfish and Sushi House, where he regales her with the locally brewed sake (wine is a thing of the distant past) and the only sushi left available on this picked-over planet: catfish, tilapia, and the always-in-demand crappy roll. And so begins his new career and his newly kindled romance.
Alternate chapters take us back to the past, where we see a younger Ty and Andrea in action as the driving wheels behind the radical environmental group, Earth Forever! We also delve into Ty's relationship with his daughter, Sierra, now famous as a "matyr to the trees." All of this is presented with satiric verve - this is a funny book, albeit on the most depressing possible topic.
I'm out feeding the hyena her kibble and chicken backs and doing what I can to clean up after the latest storm, when the call comes through. It's Andrea. Andrea Knowles Cotton Tierwater, my ex-wife, my wife of a thousand years ago, when I was young and vigorous and relentlessly virile, the woman who routinely chained herself to cranes and bulldozers and seven-hundred-thousand-dollar Feller Buncher machines back in the time when we thought it mattered, the woman who helped me raise my daughter, the woman who made me crazy. Jesus Christ. If somebody has to come, why couldn't it be Teo. He'd be easier-him I could just kill. Bang-bang. And then Lily would have something more than chicken backs for dinner.
Anyway, there are trees down everywhere and the muck is tugging at my gum boots like a greedy sucking mouth, a mouth that's going to pull me all the way down eventually, but not yet. I might be seventy-five years old and my shoulders might feel as if they're attached at the joint with fishhooks, but the new kidney they grew me is still processing fluids just fine, thank you, and I can still outwork half the spoonfed cretins on this place. Besides, I have skills, special skills -- I'm an animal man and there aren't many of us left these days, and my boss, Maclovio Pulchris, appreciates that. And I'm not name-dropping here, not necessarily -- just stating the facts. I manage the man's private menagerie, the last surviving one in this part of the world, and it's an important -- scratch that, vital -- reservoir for zoo-cloning and the distribution of what's left of the major mammalian species. And you can say what you will about pop stars or the quality of his music or even the way he looks when he takes his hat and sunglasses off and you can see what a ridiculous little crushed nugget of a head he was born with, but I'll say this -- he's a friend of the animals.
Of course, there isn't going to be anything left of the place if the weather doesn't let up. It's not even the rainy season -- or what we used to qualify as the rainy season, as if we knew anything about it in the first place -- but the storms are stacked up out over the Pacific like pool balls on a billiard table and not a pocket in sight. Two days ago the wind came up in the night, ripped the roof off of one of the back pens and slammed it like a giant Frisbee into the Lupine Hill condos across the way. Mac didn't particularly care about that -- nobody's insured for weather anymore and any and all lawsuits are automatically thrown out of court, so don't even ask -- but what hurt was the fact that the Patagonian fox got loose, and that's the last native-born individual known to be in existence on this worn-out planet, and we still haven't found the thing. Not a clue. No tracks, no nothing. She just disappeared, as if the storm had picked her up like Dorothy and set her down in the place where the extinct carnivores of all the ages run riot through fields of hobbled game -- or in the middle of a freeway, where to the average motorist she'd be nothing more than a dog on stilts. The pangolins, they're gone too. And less than fifty of them out there in the world. It's a crime, but what can you do -- call up the search and rescue? We've all been hit hard. Floods, winds, thunder and lightning, even hail. There are plenty of people without roofs over their heads, and right here in Santa Barbara County, not just Los Andiegoles or San Jose Francisco.
So Lily, she's giving me a long steady look out of the egg yolks of her eyes, and I'm lucky to have chicken backs what with the meat situation lately, when the pictaphone rings (think Dick Tracy, because the whole world's a comic strip now). The sky is black -- not gray, black -- and it can't be past three in the afternoon. Everything is still, and I smell it like a gathering cloud, death, the death of everything, hopeless and stinking and wasted, the pigment gone from the paint, the paint gone from the buildings, cars abandoned along the road, and then it starts raining again. I talk to my wrist (no picture, though-the picture button is set firmly and permanently in the off position-why would I want to show this wreck of a face to anybody?). "Yeah?" I shout, and the rain is heavier, wind-driven now, snapping in my face like a wet towel.
The voice is cracked and blistered, like the dirt here when the storms move on to Nevada and Arizona and the sun comes back to pound us with all its unfiltered melanomic might, but I recognize it right away, twenty years notwithstanding. It's a voice that does something physical to me, that jumps out of the circumambient air and seizes hold of me like a thing that lives off the blood of other things. "Andrea? Andrea Cotton?" Half a beat. "Jesus Christ, it's you, isn't it?"
Soft and seductive, the wind rising, Lily fixing me from behind the chicken wire as if I'm the main course: "No picture for me?"
"What do you want, Andrea?"
"I want to see you."
"Sorry, nobody sees me."
"I mean in person, face to face. Like before."
Rain streams from my hat. One of the sorry inbred lions starts coughing its lungs out, a ratcheting, oddly mechanical sound that drifts across the weedlot and ricochets off the monolithic face of the condos. I'm trying to hold back a whole raft of feelings, but they keep bobbing and pitching to the surface, threatening to break loose and shoot the rapids once and for all. "What for?"
"What do you think?"
"I don't know -- to run down my debit cards? Fuck with my head? Save the planet?"
Lily stretches, yawns, shows me the length of her yellow canines and the big crushing molars in back. She should be out on the veldt, cracking up giraffe bones, extracting marrow from the vertebrae, gnawing on hoofs. Except that there is no veldt, not anymore, and no giraffes either. Something unleashed in my brain shouts, IT'S ANDREA! And it is. Andrea's voice coming back at me. "No, fool," she says. "For love."
T. C. Boyle's range as a novelist is breathtaking; he is the kind of writer who is always setting himself new challenges, who never ceases to astonish. In A Friend of the Earth, "America's most imaginative contemporary novelist" (Newsweek) blends idealism and satire in a story that addresses the ultimate questions of human love and the survival of the species.
Read an excerpt from the novel, and be sure to join us for our live chat with the author.
Posted April 27, 2010
T.C. Boyle certainly has a talent for writing. I love his style but sadly, I didn't enjoy this book nearly as much as some of his other works.
This book alternates between the near future of 2025 and the not too distant past of 30 years ago....and a little bit of the time between. The main character is Ty Tierwater. In the year 2025 he's an older fellow who works for a rich musician. His job is to take care of the musicians menagerie of ugly animals....the animals that nobody else seems to care about. And mammals in the year 2025 are a pretty rare thing. See, there is really no biodiversity left because of global warming, and the earth seems to be on a fast downward spiral. Boyle does not paint a pretty future in this tale. I think it was well researched though and unfortunately seems all too plausible. So this story alternates between this bleak future and Tierwater's past, when he was an eco-terrorist. He broke the law, spent quite a few years in prison, lost his daughter (in more ways than one) and he did it all for the earth and the animals. Was it all in vain? Does he have any regrets? I won't give it away.
I thought this was an interesting tale. It's definitely not a cheerful story....though it does end in a slightly optimistic way. For some reason though (it wasn't the writing) I just didn't really get into this book all that much. Not as much as I thought I would anyway. I'm a big fan of T.C. Boyle so I was expecting to really lose myself in the story. Not so. A Friend of the Earth is sort of intriguing and a decent diversion but I guess I was just expecting better.
Posted June 27, 2002
This book has it all, and you'll laugh through it even as you gasp at the horror that TCB imagines. This is the Coen Brothers meets Flannery O'Conner. This is a totally great book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.