When the Killing's Done

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Overview

From the bestselling author of The Women comes an action-packed adventure about endangered animals and those who would protect them.

Principally set on the wild and sparsely inhabited Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara, T. C. Boyle's powerful new novel combines pulse-pounding adventure with a socially conscious, richly humane tale regarding the dominion we attempt to exert, for better or worse, over the natural world. Alma Boyd Takesue is a National Park Service ...

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Overview

From the bestselling author of The Women comes an action-packed adventure about endangered animals and those who would protect them.

Principally set on the wild and sparsely inhabited Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara, T. C. Boyle's powerful new novel combines pulse-pounding adventure with a socially conscious, richly humane tale regarding the dominion we attempt to exert, for better or worse, over the natural world. Alma Boyd Takesue is a National Park Service biologist who is spearheading the efforts to save the islands' endangered native creatures from invasive species like rats and feral pigs, which, in her view, must be eliminated. Her antagonist, Dave LaJoy, is a dreadlocked local businessman who, along with his lover, the folksinger Anise Reed, is fiercely opposed to the killing of any species whatsoever and will go to any lengths to subvert the plans of Alma and her colleagues.

Their confrontation plays out in a series of escalating scenes in which these characters violently confront one another, contemplate acts of sabotage, court danger, and tempt the awesome destructive power of nature itself. Boyle deepens his story by going back in time to relate the harrowing tale of Alma's grandmother, Beverly, who was the sole survivor of a 1946 shipwreck in the channel, as well as the tragic story of Anise's mother, Rita, who in the late 1970s lived and worked on a sheep ranch on Santa Cruz Island. In dramatizing this collision between protectors of the environment and animal rights activists, Boyle is, in his characteristic fashion, examining one of the essential questions of our time: Who has the right of possession of the land, the waters, the very lives of all the creatures who share this planet with us?

When the Killing's Done will offer no transparent answers, but like The Tortilla Curtain, Boyle's classic take on illegal immigration, it will touch you deeply and put you in a position to decide.

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  • When the Killing's Done
    When the Killing's Done  

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Environmental struggle, sometimes by proxy, is at the core of T.C. Boyle's hauntingly relevant new novel. At first glance, the scene of When The Killing's Done appears to be peripheral: Santa Barbara's Channel Islands are relatively isolated and sparsely inhabited. However, the ferocity of the local battles between rival environmentalists and animal activists exemplifies the wars of nature itself. In this aptly titled fiction, Boyle represents their opposing views not as sterile intellectual debates, but as vital decisions in our fight for survival. Vivid characters; plausible conflict.

Ron Charles
…Boyle's terrifically exciting and unapologetically relevant When the Killing's Done…demonstrates that it's possible to write an environmental novel that provokes discussion instead of merely thumping away on conventional wisdom…When the Killing's Done presents a smarter, sharper vision of our environmental challenges than [Boyle's] doomsday novel, A Friend of the Earth. By corralling all these pigs, rats, dwarf foxes, golden eagles and human beings into one stormy tale, he's created a raucous exploration of the clumsy role that even the best-intentioned people play in these fragile environs.
—The Washington Post
Barbara Kingsolver
Character, science and history co-evolve marvelously here in a tale of fanaticism gone literally overboard. Boyle's devotees will find everything they expect in the way of manic plotlines, flamboyant obsessions and cool comeuppance outlandishly delivered…This is a smart and rollicking novel, with suspense and shipwrecks galore, in which no character ever quite understands the stakes and no challenge is perfectly answered.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Boyle (The Women) spins a grand environmental and family drama revolving around the Channel Islands off Santa Barbara in his fiery latest. Alma Boyd Takesue is an unassuming National Park Service biologist and the public face of a project to eradicate invasive species, such as rats and pigs, from the islands. Antagonizing her is Dave LaJoy, a short-tempered local business owner and founder of an organization called For the Protection of Animals. What begins as the disruption of public meetings and protests outside Alma's office escalates as Dave realizes he must take matters into his own hands to stop what he considers to be an unconscionable slaughter. Dave and Alma are at the center of a web of characters—among them Alma's grandmother, who lost her husband and nearly drowned herself in the channel, and Dave's girlfriend's mother, who lived on a sheep ranch on one of the islands—who provide a perspective that man's history on the islands is a flash compared to nature's evolution there. Boyle's animating conflict is tense and nuanced, and his sleek prose yields a tale that is complex, thought-provoking, and darkly funny—everything we have come to expect from him. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Boyle is no stranger to environmental fiction. His 2000 novel, A Friend of the Earth, chronicles the exploits of Tyrone O'Shaughnessy Tierwater, an ecological martyr. Here, Boyle delves deep into environmental philosophy by creating two characters passionate about saving animals but in diametrically opposed ways. The tension is centered on the population of rats on the Channel Islands off the coast of California. Alma, a biologist, is attempting to exterminate the rats to prevent further damage to the fragile ecosystem on the island. Dave, an animal rights activist, is equally passionate about all the inhabitants of the island, including the rats. Boyle's characters are challenging, to say the least, for they are complicated and often inconsistent. While the desire to preserve and protect nature does not defuse many of the conflicts between the two, their ethical similarities invite the reader to question where these two ideologies ultimately clash. Boyle uses the conflicts between his characters to explore the changing philosophy of human and animal relationships. VERDICT Whether we regard this work as environmental fiction or a philosophical treatise on land ethics, Boyle has delivered yet another quandary to ponder. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/10.]—Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH
Library Journal - Library Journal Audio
The Channel Islands off the coast of California provide the backdrop for PEN/Faulkner Award-winning author Boyle's 13th novel, following The Women (2009), also available from Blackstone Audio. The book begins with a shipwreck that tests the mental and physical strength of one of the novel's tough female characters and then moves back and forth in history, telling the story of a family and the irrevocable ways its members both affect nature and are affected by it. Awash in recurring images of violence and death, the narrative is arranged as separate stories that swirl around the family like the waters around the islands, offering up a tangled net of conflict among incompatible interests: ecological well-being, animal rights, and the human impulse toward intervention. Actor/narrator Anthony Heald's (anthonyheald.com) mellow voice helps to weave the story into a cohesive, gripping drama and provides a welcome respite from the sometimes exhausting action of the plot. Recommended. ["Whether we regard this work as environmental fiction or a philosophical treatise on land ethics, Boyle has delivered yet another quandary to ponder," read the review of the Viking hc, LJ 1/11.—Ed.]—Beth Traylor, Univ. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libs.
Kirkus Reviews

A provocative premise delivers considerable literary dividends.

In one of his richest and most engaging novels, Boyle(The Women,2009, etc.) characteristically combines a dark sense of humor and a subversive streak as he illuminates the dark underbelly of all-American idealism. The focus is California environmentalism, the idealization of the natural world, which is more often dangerous, even deadly, than idyllic. The novel puts two characters on a collision course, with each discovering in the process the complexities and ambiguities of their polarized opposite positions. Dr. Alma Boyd Takesue, a native Californian of mixed American and Japanese descent, spearheads a program for the National Park Service aimed at eliminating various species that have been imported to the Channel Islands, near Santa Barbara, to preserve the ecosystem and allow indigenous species to survive. Her antagonist is Dave LaJoy, head of the PETA-like FPA (For the Protection of Animals), who is both a dreadlocked hipster and a successful businessman. He is also a dislikable loudmouth—ravaging restaurant personnel, throwing his weight around, bullying Alma, whom he once dated. But he has a point: "He believes in something, the simplest clearest primary moral principle: thou shalt not kill." And his activism has spurred plenty of press coverage that demonizes the National Park Service's initiative, accusing Alma of trying to "manipulate nature and make a theme park out of the islands." Nature being nature, it refuses to obey the dictates of either Alma or Dave, as their battles escalate over rats, feral pigs and rattlesnakes, and the plot naturally comes to encompass human death (and birth) as well. A richly detailed back story provides additional context, as Boyle nimbly plays chronological hopscotch, showing how both these islands and these people came to be how they are. The novel never reduces its narrative to polemics—there are no heroes here—while underscoring the difficult decisions that those who consider themselves on the side of the angels must face.

Narrative propulsion is laced with delicious irony in this winning novel.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781441775252
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/22/2011
  • Format: MP3 on CD
  • Pages: 1
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.60 (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:

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
Humanity and nature live in a precarious balance, and those who advocate for the rights of animals and the sanctity of the natural world maintain that nature needs help. Alma Boyd Takesue, a National Park Service biologist, believes that the animals need rescuing from each other; Dave LaJoy, an environmental activist, believes that the animals need rescuing from Alma. Faced with the exploding population of rats and feral pigs in the Channel Islands of California and the resulting destruction of natural habitats, Alma is preparing a mass extermination of these animals, in the hope that the elimination of some species will save others. Dave, however, doesn't believe that humans have the right to choose which animals will live and which will die, and this—combined with his personal history with Alma—means he's willing to go to any length to prevent her from achieving her goal. Their explosive relationship and its far-reaching effects form the crux of When the Killing's Done, the timely and thought-provoking new novel from the critically acclaimed writer T.C. Boyle.

Boyle manages to be both expansive and incisive, and he doesn't shy away from addressing volatile subjects. Refusing to depict Alma or Dave as a one-dimensional ideologue, he instead provides nuanced descriptions of the strengths and weaknesses of their opposing perspectives, leaving us to wrestle with the moral ambiguities of their arguments. Alma and Dave are complicated, finely drawn characters, and their battle is built on both science and passion, stemming from a mutual love of nature expressed in starkly contrasting ways. While Dave's commitment to animals is brought on by an emotional epiphany and a struggle to manage his rage, Alma's is built on the foundations of her family's history. As Boyle subtly demonstrates, a single event can shape a family's entire legacy, echoing through generations, and the story of Alma's grandmother's survival of a shipwreck—and the vital role that the Channel Islands played in that story—is intimately connected to Alma's work. Similarly, Anise Reed, Dave's lover, works to save the animals in order to purge the memory of a traumatic event that she and her mother witnessed years ago. In their own ways, each of these characters is working for an outwardly noble purpose rooted in deeply personal motives, and the results of their actions bring together the brutality of nature, the arrogance of humanity and the indelible bonds of family.

Boyle has created a fast-paced, intelligent and provocative read, filled with the drama of politics and environmental sabotage, and his careful rendering of the biology and history of the Channel Islands is superb. Using a multigenerational narrative, Boyle questions humanity's responsibility to the animal world and its place within the ecosystem. Highlighting the dangers of good intentions, When the Killing's Done presents nature not as a paradise but as an uncertain playing field on which animals struggle for survival in an ecosystem forever altered by the one species that seeks to control them all: our own.

ABOUT T. C. BOYLE

T.C. Boyle has a bachelor's degree in English and history, an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a Ph.D. in nineteenth-century British literature. He has written thirteen novels and nine short-story collections, including After the Plague and The Tortilla Curtain; he has published work in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Harper's and The Atlantic, among many other periodicals. The recipient of the PEN/Faulkner Award in the novel and the PEN/Malamud Award for the short story, Boyle was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2009. He currently lives with his family in Santa Barbara—just across the channel from Santa Cruz Island—and teaches at the University of Southern California.

A CONVERSATION WITH T. C. BOYLE
Q. One of your earlier novels, A Friend of the Earth, also tackled environmental issues. How long have you been interested in environmentalism and animal welfare? Like Dave LaJoy, did you experience a particular moment that awakened your interest?

I suppose I've been interested in biology and the environment all my life. I grew up in suburban New York in a time when there was still abundant forest, and I roamed that forest with my eyes wide in wonder. (That forest, my own very specific one, has now been carved up into one-acre estates for some very nice but to my mind absolutely unnecessary homes.) Even now, after many years of living on the West Coast, I still find myself seeking out nature for solace and regeneration, whether it be the ocean down the street or the wild mountains of the Sierra Nevada. As for a particular defining moment, I can't point to one, though with regard to animal welfare I will never forget what Isaac Bashevis Singer had to say on the subject: "Every day is Auschwitz for the animals."

Q. While your writing often addresses volatile issues, you never present clear ideological statements or endorsements of either side of an argument. Privately, however, you must have opinions on the issues you're writing about; has the process of justly representing both perspectives ever influenced or changed your own opinions?

As I have said elsewhere, I do not believe that politics or advocacy and art make for an congenial mix. Fiction is meant to invite the reader to inhabit a space and contemplate a world and its issues as he or she will. It is not the place of the author to lead them by the nose (or any other body part, for that matter). That said, readers of my novels, from The Tortilla Curtain toA Friend of the Earth to When the Killing's Done, or stories like "Hopes Rise" or "After the Plague," should, I think, have an idea of what I believe in and what I stand for, though none of that should be relevant to his or her enjoyment of or engagement with a given novel or story.

Q. Is FPA, the animal-rights activist group in the novel, inspired by any real-life counterparts such as the Animal Liberation Front? Do you think the aggressive and sometime violent tactics used by similar organizations ultimately help or hinder the cause of environmentalism and the humane treatment of animals?

Yes, I am quite consciously thinking of radical environmental groups here, just as I was back in 2000 with my novel about ecoterrorism and global warming, A Friend of the Earth. I can't say whether these groups are advancing or hindering the cause—on the one hand, organizations like Earth First! do bring attention to problems such as clear-cutting and do achieve results, though those results are often as much due to the efforts of mainstream environmental groups as their own; on the other hand, the attention is often negative, as their subversion of the rule of law may be construed by many as a sort of vigilantism. I ask myself, What would Edward Abbey say?

Q. Within your exploration of the themes of population control and playing God, pregnancies and strong mother-daughter relationships figure prominently. How did the theme of motherhood and ecology come together for you?

As this is an interpretive question—or leads to interpretation—I will try to step around it. I very much like your pointing to some of the thematic links in the book, the unfolding of which I do hope will give readers pleasure. Of course, we do live on Mother Earth and we are animals who have been able to discover, through our keen intellects, the sole purpose of life as all other living things understand it: to reproduce.

Q. It seems that there is an inherent conflict in Dave's opposition to slaughtering the rats and pigs, in that not destroying them will eventually destroy the native species; further, he relocates animals of his choosing to the islands. He believes that Alma is playing God, but don't his actions in effect do the same thing?

I will leave this for the reader to decide. The epigraph of the book, from Genesis, should give a clue. I wonder what our true relation to other creatures actually is—even the ones that parasitize us. Pity the poor mosquito (tick, leech, botfly) that only wants the very same things we do: to discover warmth, nutrition—yes, even love—and to raise a brood to inhabit the next and coming generation.

Q. That nature suffers at the hands of humanity is a central point of the novel, but there are many instances of nature's overwhelming people; an example would be the significant role that the ocean plays in the plot. Why did you create this juxtaposition?

Who can step out the door without being overwhelmed by his own tenuousness in the scheme (or, rather, lack of scheme) of things? We are subject to random forces, and all our art, our beauty, our science and wisdom will come to nothing in the end.

Q. Is there significance in the fact that Beverly and the rats arrive on Anacapa in the same fashion? Do you see humans as an invasive species, like the rats and feral pigs?

Again, this is a (wonderfully) leading question that I am not at liberty to answer. Pick up the globe, spin it on your index finger and answer for yourself. But isn't this the central conundrum of environmentalism? As Ty Tierwater, protagonist of A Friend of the Earth, says: "To be a friend of the earth, you have to be an enemy of the people."

Q. Considering that you preface the novel with a quote from the Bible concerning man's God-given dominion over the natural world, and that Dave's boat is named Paladin after Charlemagne's Christian warriors, what connections do you see between the novel and religion?

Religion is voodoo, just as is science, its modern replacement. We live—and die—in a mystery, a mystery that both religion and science seek to address. But all we have, really, is our culture, our family, our art. Everything else comes in shades of black and blacker.

Q. Alicia asks Alma, "What if we just left everything alone like the world was before us—like God made it. Wouldn't that be easier?" (p. 103). Is it reasonable—or even possible—to return the earth to its previously undamaged state? Does setting environmental ambitions so high doom all attempts to frustration and failure?

No. In fact, the restoration on Santa Cruz Island is one of the truly remarkable success stories of modern environmental activism. The indigenous fox, unique to this ecosystem, was a heartbeat from extinction when biologists discovered the final cause in a whole chain of man-made catastrophe—and the fox is now thriving once again. And all this, from imminent danger of extinction to recovery, came in the tiniest fraction of a wink of time. What can I say but hallelujah! The loss of any organism (smallpox?) is a loss forever, and we are all impoverished as a result.

Q. There was a real-life attempt to eradicate feral pigs from the Channel Islands. Was it this endeavor that appealed to you as the basis for a novel?

Please see the response immediately above. Yes, it was this serpentine and, to a large degree, absurd concatenation of events that inspired me to explore the situation and write When the Killing's Done. I could not have done so without the cooperation, guidance and friendship of the naturalists and biologists involved, to whom I am deeply indebted.

Q. What is your writing process? How long does it take to complete a novel, from initial idea to completed work? Do you work on multiple projects simultaneously?

My writing process is my life. Since I first discovered the miracle of fiction and of writing fiction, I have devoted myself to it with all my heart and soul. The world and our lives in it are mysterious and the only way I can begin to address that mystery is to create worlds of my own, to dream a dream and present it to you so that you can dream it too. As for the other two questions: 1) As long as it takes. 2) No. But then each project is different, each story or novel spinning out in its own orbit. My job is to follow it to completion and then follow the next.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • The book opens with the dramatic story of Alma's grandmother's boat accident. What is Anise's family history? Does your family have any great stories that have been passed down through the generations?
  • What does the title of the novel refer to?
  • Alma muses that "if she had enough money—say, five hundred billion or so—she'd buy up all the property in town, raze the buildings, tear out the roads and reintroduce the grizzly bear" (p. 41). Do you think Dave might say something similar? If you had nearly limitless funds, what good work would you do?
  • On pp. 64 – 65, we see Dave's response to Alma's presentation and his vandalizing of her car. Do you believe his personal relationship with Alma influenced his actions? In what ways are Alma's opinion of and interactions with him colored by their former relationship?
  • There are numerous example of Dave's inability to deal with his anger, usually targeted at other people. On p. 69, Dave questions whether his behavior exhibits "a fundamental inconsistency: pro-animal, antihuman." Does it?
  • Alma considers her footprint in the global ecology and feels "guilt over being alive, needing things, consuming things, turning the tap or lighting the flame under the gas burner" (p. 191). Do you feel the same way? Is it possible to exist without imposing on some other creature or resource?
  • Do Alma and Dave conform to your expectations of dedicated environmentalists? Are you similarly committed to any strong beliefs or principles? Have you ever been in a situation where you were pressured to compromise them?
  • As Dave sabotages the rat poison, he feels a "giddiness rising in him, the surge of power and triumph that rides up out of nowhere to replace the bafflement and rage and depression Dr. Reiser and his pharmaceuticals can't begin to touch. This is who he is. This" (p. 82). Does Dave do his animal rights work for himself or for his cause, or are the two completely intertwined? Does it matter?
  • Have you ever found yourself in battle with nature, either as victim or as aggressor? What was the result?
  • In what ways are Dave and Alma similar? How does each character's perspective shift by the end of the novel?
  • Which character did you feel was more sympathetic than the others? Who was least appealing? Which character best approximated your own feelings toward animals and the environment?
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 39 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 12, 2011

    Current, ironic and very interesting

    The topic here is the war between PETA-like folks and Park Service folks. The focus is on a couple of little islands off the coast of California near Santa Barbara, which is the city where Boyle lives.

    Is the killing of any animal wrong, always? The vegetarian/vegan locals say yes. This puts them in direct opposition to the people in the Park Service who want to kill off an invasive rat population on one island and an invasive feral pig population on another. On the second island there is also, at one end, a sheep ranch; the sheep are also ranked as invasive. The rangers want the land returned to the foxes that were there before. (But how did *they* get there?) The cost is in the millions.

    Boyle balances the claims and the personal shortcomings of the characters on both sides. As in all his work, he is merciless in his dissection of a character's rationalizations and hypocrisies. I think he's a little harder on the ones united For the Protection of Animals, in that they are more self-righteous and also oblivious to the environment in any larger sense beyond animal protection. Their rather snotty leader owns a chain of electronics stores, for example.

    The most sympathetic character by far is Alma Boyd Takesue, a half-Japanese American whose grandmother, pregnant with her mother, survived a shipwreck off the coast of one of the islands back in 1946. The novel opens with a harrowing account of her experience. True, Alma's work with the Park Service makes her the one that pays the killers, as she sees clearly. But returning the islands to their "original" state is worth it, isn't it? Boyle lets the reader decide.

    There are a number of violent encounters in here, aside from the elimination of several species; feelings run high. Yours will be engaged, I'm sure.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2014

    Ass

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2013

    Looks at the issue from many sides.

    I liked this book but not my favorite of this author. It is worth your time reading but don't miss his other titles if this is your first of his writings.

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  • Posted February 13, 2012

    Nice treatment of a current hot topic

    A decent read

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