Tooth and Claw...and Other Stories

Overview

Since his first collection of stories, Descent of Man, appeared in 1979, T.C. Boyle has become an acknowledged master of the form who has transformed the nature of short fiction in our time. Among the fourteen tales in his seventh collection are the comic yet lyrical title story, in which a young man wins a vicious African cat in a bar bet; "Dogology," about a suburban woman losing her identity to a pack of strays; and "The Kind Assassin," which explores the consequences of a radio shock jock's quest to set a ...

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Tooth and Claw

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Overview

Since his first collection of stories, Descent of Man, appeared in 1979, T.C. Boyle has become an acknowledged master of the form who has transformed the nature of short fiction in our time. Among the fourteen tales in his seventh collection are the comic yet lyrical title story, in which a young man wins a vicious African cat in a bar bet; "Dogology," about a suburban woman losing her identity to a pack of strays; and "The Kind Assassin," which explores the consequences of a radio shock jock's quest to set a world record for sleeplessness. Muscular, provocative, and blurring the boundaries between humans and nature, the funny and the shocking, Tooth and Claw is Boyle at his best.

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Editorial Reviews

Annie Proulx
Inside Tooth and Claw are Boyle's trademark taut writing, immediate intimacy, vivid language, and meaty words and phrases including "liver muggies," "foude" and "testudineous." Cherish the writer who stretches your mind a little. These characters speak and tell their stories in the slouchy dialogue we all use, their girlfriends throw them out, they confront one another, break up and throw up, they shriek, their flesh prickles, they slip, sink, fall, they brush lips with death, but somehow most escape the deep kiss.
— The Washington Post
Laura Miller
… Boyle provides ample delights -- a robust sense of place, crackerjack dialogue, real stories -- on the way to his expected endings. He often works in a comic mode with roots in Mark Twain's tall tales; a number of these stories have the endearing air of being related from a bar stool (and many of them have scenes in bars). A handful are written in a more respectable, less plotted style, and these deal, of course, with grief, an emotion that has become something of a fetish in today's literary fiction. Yet even these tonier outings have solid narrative backbones.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
The threat of imminent demise-whether self-inflicted or from an ungentle Mother Nature-hovers in Boyle's seventh collection (after the novel The Inner Circle). Ravenous alligators make a memorable cameo in "Jubilation," in which a divorced man seeking community and stability moves into a "model" town erected in a Florida theme park (think Disney's Celebration), only to find that benign surfaces conceal dangerous depths. This theme of civilization versus wilderness also underpins the weird and wonderful "Dogology," in which a young woman's frustration with the accoutrements of the human world compels her to run-on all fours-with a pack of neighborhood dogs. "Here Comes"-one of the collection's more realistic pieces-describes the anxious circumstances of a suddenly homeless alcoholic poised to slip through the cracks for good in a Southern California town. Substance abuse figures again in "Up Against the Wall," about a young man seduced by a dissolute new crowd, while his parents' marital discord and the Vietnam War tug at the edges of his drugged-out awareness. The wired rhythm of Boyle's prose and the enormity of his imagination make this collection irresistible; with it he continues to shore up his place as one of the most distinctive, funniest-and finest-writers around. (On sale Sept. 12) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Published on the heels of his novel The Inner Circle, Boyle's seventh collection continues the move away from the high-concept narrative hooks and surprise endings that characterized his earlier stories. The title comes from Tennyson's In Memoriam and refers to nature's cruelty and indifference to suffering. In some of these tales, the predators are animals; in others, human. In the title story, a man adopts a vicious African cat in order to impress a sexy cocktail waitress. Substance abuse is an underlying theme throughout. In the frightening "Here Comes," for instance, a man tries to adjust to his new life as a homeless drunk, while in "Up Against the Wall"-clearly an autobiographical tale, catching Boyle in an unusual confessional mode-a young teacher stranded in rural New York is recruited into the heroin lifestyle. This strong collection will delight Boyle's longtime fans and win him converts. For public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/05.]-Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Darker tones and an impressive range of subjects dominate this impressive collection of 14 vivid stories, the seventh from one of our most versatile and prolific writers. Boyle displays his manic surrealist's wares in wry tales concerning a roughhewn Shetland Islander whose unlikely romance with a lissome American ornithologist is imperiled by violent winds continuously plaguing the isle of Unst ("Swept Away"); a retiree's passive adjustment to a Florida theme park and housing complex transformed by its draconian "Covenants and Restrictions" into an Orwellian nightmare ("Jubilation"); and in the superb "Dogology," which juxtaposes a revenge tale involving feral children in India with the regression of a woman field biologist who undertakes "reordering her senses" through intimate orientation in the canine world. Several considerably grimmer stories focus on hapless substance abusers: a recently divorced narrator who encounters the grieving father of a college fraternity drinking binge's victim ("When I Woke Up This Morning, Everything I Had Was Gone"); a destitute loser sunk in homelessness and hopelessness ("Here Comes"); and an unstable drunk whose repeated risk-taking undermines his continuing dumb luck ("All the Wrecks I've Crawled Out Of"). A sense of looming global catastrophe takes the varied forms of a Mexican rancher's disbelieving encounter with a "doomsaying" scientist ("Blinded by the Light"); the father of a reported fatal auto crash's victim, obsessed with past and future Armageddons ("Chicxlub"); and-metaphorically-in the title story's account of its underachieving protagonist's enslavement to a ferociously untameable African predator. Even better are the tale of a radioco-host's assault on the world record for "continuous hours without sleep" ("The Kind Assassin"); a rich fictionalization of the famous journal detailing Sarah Kemble Knight's arduous travels through the rural colonial northeastern U.S. ("The Doubtfulness of Water"); and a perfectly calibrated portrayal of a callow "ghetto school" teacher's scary walk on the wild side ("Up Against the Wall"). Vintage Boyle, and not to be missed.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143037439
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 6/27/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 785,287
  • Product dimensions: 5.21 (w) x 7.78 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

T. Coraghessan Boyle

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.

Biography

In the interest of time and space, it might be easier to note the writers that T. C. Boyle isn't compared to. But let's give the reverse a try: Donald Barthelme, John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, Evelyn Waugh, Franz Kafka, James Joyce, Kingsley Amis, Thomas Berger, Robert Coover, Lorrie Moore, Stanley Elkin, Tom Robbins, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, Don DeLillo, Flannery O'Connor.

Oh, let's not forget F. Lee Bailey. And Dr. Seuss.

Boyle, widely admired for his acrobatic verbal skill, wild narratives and quirky characters (in one short story, he imagines a love affair between Dwight Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev's wife), has dazzled critics since his first novel in 1981.

Consider this example, from Larry McCaffery in a 1985 article for The New York Times: "Beneath its surface play, erudition and sheer storytelling power, his fiction also presents a disturbing and convincing critique of an American society so jaded with sensationalized images and plasticized excess that nothing stirs its spirit anymore.... It is into this world that Mr. Boyle projects his heroes, who are typically lusty, exuberant dreamers whose wildly inflated ambitions lead them into a series of hilarious, often disastrous adventures."

But as much as critics will bow at his linguistic gifts, some also knock him for resting on them a bit too heavily, hinting that the impressive showmanship attempts to hide a shortage of depth and substance.

Craig Seligman, writing in The New Republic in 1993, pointed out that "Boyle loves a mess. He loves chaos. He loves marshes and jungles, and he loves the jungle of language: luxuriant sentences overgrown with lianas of lists, sesquipedalian words hanging down like rare fruits. For all its exoticism, though, his prose is lucid to the point of transparency. It doesn't require much deeper concentration than a good newspaper (though it does require a dictionary)."

Reviewing The Tortilla Curtain in 1995, New York Times critic Scott Spencer scratched his head over why Boyle had invited readers along for this particular ride: "Mr. Boyle's fictional strategy is puzzling. Why are we being asked to follow the fates of characters for whom he clearly feels such contempt? Not surprisingly, this is ultimately off-putting. Perhaps Mr. Boyle has received too much praise for his zany sense of humor; in this book, that wit often seems merely a maddening volley of cheap shots. It's like living next door to a gun nut who spends all day and half the night shooting at beer bottles."

Growing up, Boyle had no aspirations to be a writer. It wasn't until his studies at State University of New York, where he as a music student, that he bumped into his muse. "I went there to be a music major but found I really couldn't hack that at the age of 17," he told The Writer in 1999. "I just started to read outside my classes -- literature and history. I wound up being a history and English major; when I wandered into a creative writing class as a junior, I realized that writing was what I could do."

He then started teaching, in part to avoid getting drafted into the Vietnam War, and later applied to the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop.

After a collection of short stories in 1979, he released his first novel, Water Music, called "pitiless and brilliant" by The New Republic, and has shuttled back and forth between novels and short stories, all known for their explosions of character imagination. Mr. Boyle's literary sensibility ... thrives on excess, profusion, pushing past the limits of good taste to comic extremes," McCaffery wrote in his 1985 New York Times piece. "He is a master of rendering the grotesque details of the rot, decay and sleaze of a society up to its ears in K Mart oil cans, Kitty Litter and the rusted skeletons of abandoned cars and refrigerators."

In his review of Drop City, the 2003 novel set in California commune that won Boyle a National Book Award nomination, Dwight Garner joins the chorus of critical acclaim over the years – "Boyle has always been a fiendishly talented writer" – but he also acknowledges some of the criticism that Boyle has faced in these same years.

"The rap against Boyle's work has long been that he's a sort of madcap predator drone, raining down hard nuggets of contempt, sarcasm and bitter humor on the poor men and women in his books while rarely giving us characters we're actually persuaded to feel anything about," he wrote. "This is partly a bum rap -- and I'd hate to knock contempt, sarcasm and bitter humor -- but there's enough truth in it that it's a joy to find, in Drop City that Boyle gives us a lot more than simply a line of bong-addled innocents led to slaughter."

But perhaps the neatest summary of Boyle's work would be from Lorrie Moore, one of the novelists to which he has been compared. In a 1994 New York Times review of Boyle's short story collection Without a Hero, she praised Boyle's "astonishing and characteristic verve, his unaverted gaze, his fascination with everything lunatic and queasy."

"God knows, Mr. Boyle can write like an angel," she continues later, "if at times a caustic, gum-chewing one. And in this strong, varied collection maybe we have what we'd hope to find in heaven itself (by the time we begged our way there): no lessening of brilliance, plus a couple of laughs to mitigate all that high and distant sighing over what goes on below."

Good To Know

Boyle changed his middle name from John to Coraghessan (pronounced "kuh-RAGG-issun") when he was 17.

He is known almost as much for his ego as his writing. "Each book I put out, I think, 'Goodbye, Updike and Mailer, forget it," The New Republic quoted him as saying. "I joke at Viking that I'm going to make them forget the name of Stephen King forever, I'm going to sell so many copies.

Boyle's philosophy on reading and writing, as told to The Writer: "Good literature is a living, brilliant, great thing that speaks to you on an individual and personal level. You're the reader. I think the essence of it is telling a story. It's entertainment. It's not something to be taught in a classroom, necessarily. To be alive and be good, it has to be a good story that grabs you by the nose and doesn't let you go till The End."

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    1. Also Known As:
      T.C. Boyle
    2. Hometown:
      Santa Barbara California
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 2, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Peekskill, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A. in music, State University of New York at Potsdam, 1970; Ph.D. in literature, Iowa University, 1977
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Tooth and Claw

Stories
By T. C. Boyle

Viking Books

ISBN: 0-670-03435-5


Chapter One

When I Woke Up This Morning, Everything I Had Was Gone

The man I want to tell you about, the one I met at the bar at Jimmy's Steak House, was on a tear. Hardly surprising, since this was a bar, after all, and what do people do at bars except drink, and one drink leads to another-and if you're in a certain frame of mind, I suppose, you don't stop for a day or two or maybe more. But this man-he was in his forties, tall, no fat on him, dressed in a pair of stained Dockers and a navy blue sweatshirt cut off raggedly at the elbows-seemed to have been going at it steadily for weeks, months even.

It was a Saturday night, rain sizzling in the streets and steaming down the windows, the dinner crowd beginning to rouse themselves over decaf, cheesecake and V.S.O.P. and the regulars drifting in to look the women over and wait for the band to set up in the corner. I was new in town. I had no date, no wife, no friends. I was on something of a tear myself-a mini-tear, I guess you'd call it. The night before I'd gone out with one of my co-workers from the office, who, like me, was recently divorced, and we had dinner, went to a couple places afterward. But nothing came out if-she didn't like me, and I could see that before we halfway through dinner. I wasn't her type, whatever that might have been-and I started feeling sorry for myself, I guess, and drank too much. When I got up in the morning, I made myself a Bloody Mary with a can of Snap-E- Tom, a teaspoon of horseradish and two jiggers of vodka, just to clear my head, then went out to breakfast at a place by the water and drank a glass or two of Chardonnay with my frittata and homemade duck sausage with fennel, and then I wandered over to a sports bar and then another place after that, and I never got any of the errands done I'd been putting off all week-and I didn't have any lunch either. Or dinner. And so I drifted into Jimmy's and there he was, the man in the sweatshirt, on his tear.

There was a space around him at the bar. He was standing there, the stool shoved back and away from as if he had no use for comfort, and his lips were moving, though nobody I could see was talking to him. A flashlight, a notebook and a cigarette lighter were laid out in front of him on the mahogany bar, and though Jimmy's specialized in margaritas-there were eighteen different types of margaritas on the drinks menu-this man was apparently going the direct route. Half a glass of beer sat on the counter just south of the flashlight and he was guarding three empty shot glasses as if he was afraid someone was going to run off with them. The bar was filling up. There were only two seats available in the place, one on either side of him. I was feeling a little washed out, my legs gone heavy on me all of a sudden, and I was thinking I might get a burger or a steak and fries at the bar. I studied him a moment, considered, then took the seat to his right and ordered a drink.

Our first communication came half a second later. He tapped my arm, gave me a long, tunneled look, and made the universal two-fingered gesture for a smoke. Normally this would have irritated me-the law says you can no longer smoke in a public place in this state, and in any case I don't smoke and never have-but I was on a tear myself, I guess, and just gave him a smile and shrugged my shoulders. He turned away from me then to flag down the bartender and order another shot-he was drinking Herradura Gold-and a beer chaser. There was ritualistic moment during which he took a bite from the wedge of lime the bartender provided, sprinkled salt onto the webbing between the thumb and index finger of his left hand, licked it off and threw back the shot, after which the beer came into play. He exhaled deeply, and then his eyes migrated back to me. "Nice to see you," he said, as if we'd known each other for years.

I said it was nice to see him too. The gabble of voices around us seemed to go up a notch. A woman at the end of the bar began to laugh with a thick, dredging sound, as if she were bringing something up with great reluctance.

He leaned in confidentially. "You know," he said, "people drink for a lot of reasons. You know why I drink? Because I like the taste of it. Sweet and simple. I like the taste."

I told him I liked the taste of it too, and then he made a fist and cuffed me lightly on the meat of the arm. "You're all right, you know that?" He held out his hand as if we'd just closed a deal, and I took it. I've been in business for years-for all the years but one since I left college-and it was just a reflex to give him my name. He didn't say anything in response, just stared into my eyes, grinning, until I said, "And what do I call you?"

The man looked past me, his eyes groping toward the red and green neon sign with its neatly bunched neon palm trees that glowed behind the bar and apprised everybody of the name of the establishment. It took him a minute, but then he dropped my hand and said, "Just call me Jimmy."

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Tooth and Claw by T. C. Boyle
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Tooth and Claw When I Woke Up This Morning, Everything I Had Was Gone
Swept Away
Dogology
The Kind Assassin
The Swift Passage of the Animals
Jubilation
Rastrow's Island
Chicxulub
Here Comes
All the Wrecks I've Crawled Out Of
Blinded by the Light
Tooth and Claw
The Doubtfulness of Water: Knight's Journey to New York, 1702
Up Against the Wall

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