A Friend of the Earth

A Friend of the Earth

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by T. C. Boyle, Scott Brick

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First off, A Friend of the Earth represents both a return and a departure for me - a return, in that it focuses on the environmental themes.

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

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First off, A Friend of the Earth represents both a return and a departure for me - a return, in that it focuses on the environmental themes.

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The year is 2025, and global warming is a catastrophic reality; most mammalian species are extinct. Tyrone Tierwater looks back to the late 1980s, when he first predicted that disaster would happen. Although it was his activist wife, Andrea, who initially goaded him into joining the ecoterrorist group Earth Forever!, Tyrone and his daughter Sierra quickly surpassed Andrea in their commitment to monkeywrenching. Tyrone was repeatedly arrested for criminal trespass and the destruction of property and ended up spending years in prison. Meanwhile, Andrea advanced in the movement's leadership council, and when her husband's antics threatened her position, she quickly divorced him. In retrospect, Tyrone realizes that history's having proven him right offers little solace for a wasted life. In his new work, Boyle (Riven Rock) mercilessly skewers developers and environmentalists alike; clearly, developers have trashed the planet, but Boyle also shows that Tierwater's monkeywrenching is partly destruction for its own sake, and Earth Forever! is more interested in protecting its own bureaucracy than the environment. Even Mother Nature comes in for a drubbing, as when a wealthy rock star is eaten by one of the animals in his private zoo. What results is powerful satire that rethinks the basic premises of Edward Abbey's classic The Monkey Wrench Gang, arguing that there are no quick and easy solutions. This book shows Boyle maturing from a glib comedic talent to a more serious novelist. Recommended for most fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/00.]--Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Michael Newton
As an image of the difficulty of relating to others and of continuing to be human, even in such desperate circumstances as here predicted for us, A Friend of the Earth is a success.
Times Literary Supplement
Michiko Kakutani
. . . manages to be funny and touching, antic and affecting, all at the same time. . . . [W]hile Mr. Boyle's humor is black as ever, he demonstrates, in telling Ty's story, that satire can coexist with psychological realism, comedy with compassion.
New York Times
L.S. Klepp
As usual, Boyle's razor-edged style is an unnerving pleasure.
Entertainment Weekly
James Sullivan
It takes a special kind of talent to tell an unconvincing story with high style. T.C. Boyle has many talents; this, as it turns out, is one of them. Boyle's eighth novel finds the history-minded author casting his gaze toward the future for a change. Set in the year 2025 with flashbacks to the late 1980s, the book tells the story of ecoterrorist Ty Tierwater, his once-and-future wife Andrea and his tree-hugging daughter from a previous marriage, Sierra. Boyle's tales are never lacking for big ideas, be they Yankee ancestry (World's End), cultural divides (East Is East) or fitness obsessions (The Road to Wellville). With A Friend of the Earth, however, the question readers might want to ask is: "What's the big idea?" Committed as it is to its environmental theme, the novel reads like an elaborate ruse, a conceit desperately in search of credibility. Tierwater is a man desperately in search of something--anything--and when he meets Earth Forever! agitator Andrea Knowles Cotton, he thinks he has found it. Their back-to-the-land politicking, which involves sabotaging earth-moving equipment and luring the media with a thirty-day retreat into the woods in their birthday suits, quickly becomes Tierwater's raison d'etre. So much so, in fact, that even after spending time in jail for his participation in the movement, he cannot stop goading the lumber companies and their law-enforcement friends. Eventually it ruins his marriage. Decades later, Tierwater turns up in Southern California as the curator of pop star Maclovio Pulchris' exotic menagerie--lions, a hyena, a Patagonian fox named Petunia. Global warming is in full effect, and some terrible fates have visited the animals as Pulchris' estate endures endless downpours and a massive mudslide. The long-departed Andrea shows up with a writer friend who wants to get Sierra's story on tape, and their arrival forces the flinty Tierwater to confront the sad episodes of his life. Far-fetched scenarios usually aren't problematic for Boyle; typically, they're his forte. This one, though, never finds much purchase. "The environment is a bore," Tierwater grouses, and he might as well be voicing the author's anxiety. "Nobody wants to read about it. What they want is to know . . . what Maclovio Pulchris' sex life was like." (Pulchris, with his omnipresent shades and his "eel whips" of hair dangling across his forehead, is essentially a double for Michael Jackson. Sierra, meanwhile, with her monthslong occupation of an endangered redwood, is a cartoon copy of real-life activist Julia Butterfly Hill.) Boyle writes often about creeping materialism; his short story "Filthy With Things," for instance, is a meditation on buyers' remorse. A Friend of the Earth could be the author's attempt to temper our guilt over the modern conveniences by painting a less-than-flattering portrait of a committed eco-warrior. The title phrase finds its rejoinder in the book's central line: "To be a friend of the earth," Tierwater says in one of several first-person passages, "you have to be an enemy of the people." For Boyle, a fiction writer who relishes the eccentricities of his fellow man, that's no option at all. Even in his lesser moments, the author doesn't lose his tight, amusing grip on the English language. In one scene, Tierwater, lost in fury, can barely listen to Andrea and their Earth Forever! cohort Teo discuss their next move: "Tierwater took this all in," Boyle writes, "not consciously, not alertly, but in the way of a sponge absorbing a slow trickle of water." Elsewhere, writer April Wind, no favorite of Tierwater's, is said to possess "a stare like two screws boring into a four-by-four." "Sometimes," Boyle writes of his protagonist near this tale's merciful end, "hiking the trails, dreaming, the breeze in his face and the chaparral burnished with the sun, he wished some avenger would come down and wipe them all out, all those seething masses out there with their Hondas and their kitchen sets and throw rugs and doilies and VCRs." It's a true enough emotion. Regrettably, the characters Boyle has come up with to express it don't ring true at all.
From the Publisher
Funny and touching, antic and affecting . . . while Boyle's humor is as black as ever, he demonstrates that satire can coexist with psychological realism, comedy with compassion." —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"As disaster tales go, this is a sly, hip one...Boyle has always liked to play circus barker for life's extremes and what better freak show than the environmental apocalypse itself?" —The Washington Post

"Both entertaining and informative...hits like a warning shot from twenty-five years into the future." —Chicago Tribune

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Product Details

Books on Tape, Inc.
Publication date:

Read an Excerpt

Prologue: Santa Ynez, November 2025

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."

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Funny and touching, antic and affecting . . . while Boyle's humor is as black as ever, he demonstrates that satire can coexist with psychological realism, comedy with compassion." —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"As disaster tales go, this is a sly, hip one...Boyle has always liked to play circus barker for life's extremes and what better freak show than the environmental apocalypse itself?" —The Washington Post

"Both entertaining and informative...hits like a warning shot from twenty-five years into the future." —Chicago Tribune

Meet the Author

T. C. Boyle is the author of eleven novels, including World's End (winner of the PEN/FaulknerAward), Drop City (a New York Times bestseller and finalist for the National Book Award), and The Inner Circle. His most recent story collections are Tooth and Claw and The Human Fly and Other Stories.

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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A Friend of the Earth 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
songcatchers More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.