Wild Child

( 14 )


"[A] rollicking collection of...good, old-fashioned, funny- suspenseful-head shaking stories." -The New York Times

There may be no one better than T.C. Boyle at engaging, shocking, and ultimately gratifying readers while at the same time testing his characters' emotional and physical endurance. The fourteen new stories gathered here display both Boyle's astonishing range and his imaginative muscle. From "Wild Child," a retelling of the story of Victor, the feral boy who was ...

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Wild Child

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"[A] rollicking collection of...good, old-fashioned, funny- suspenseful-head shaking stories." -The New York Times

There may be no one better than T.C. Boyle at engaging, shocking, and ultimately gratifying readers while at the same time testing his characters' emotional and physical endurance. The fourteen new stories gathered here display both Boyle's astonishing range and his imaginative muscle. From "Wild Child," a retelling of the story of Victor, the feral boy who was captured running naked through the forests of Napoleonic France, to "La Conchita," the tale of a catastrophic mudslide that allows a cynic to reclaim his own humanity, these tales are by turns magical and moving, showcasing the mischievous humor and socially conscious sensibility that have made Boyle one of the foremost living masters of the short story.

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Editorial Reviews

Sarah L. Courteau
The 14 pieces in this collection showcase the skills of a master—of the ironic, the absurd, the tragic—forced by the confines of the form to shed his characteristic indulgences in favor of precision-cut narratives.
—The Washington Post
Michiko Kakutani
In the past Mr. Boyle has often told such tall tales in order to make some blackly humorous points about the dark side of the American dream and the surreal nature of history in the late 20th century, as the country lurched from the counterculture '60s and '70s into the greed-is-good '80s and '90s. In this volume, however, you get the sense that he has no larger philosophical point to make, that he is simply bent on entertaining the reader—on delivering some good, old-fashioned, funny-suspenseful-head-shaking stories.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
The title novella in Boyles's ninth collection is as good as anything the prolific author of The Women has written. Basing his story on the historical Victor of Aveyron, the feral child discovered in the wilds of France in 1797 and slowly brought to heel indoors under the patient but understandably frustrated doctor Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard, Boyle interrogates history with an experienced reader's wariness of sentimental revisionism and a great writer's attention to precisely what defines the child's wildness. The 13 other stories are a grab bag of Boyles's signature modes and are, therefore, mixed. There's “Question 62,” a by-the-numbers suburban comedy concerning an escaped tiger; “La Concita,” a dutiful requiem for baby boomer ordinary guyism; and “Sin Dolor,” a bona fide Borgesian legend about a child whose inability to feel pain fails to protect him from more subtle wounds. Stronger material is found in “The Lie,” about a man who lies about his newborn baby's death to get out of work, comprising one of the book's few surprises. What's largely missing is experimentation, intimacy and deviation from a catalogue throughout which Boyle has proven himself doggedly reliable; one wonders when this wild child got housebroken. (Jan.)
Kirkus Reviews
The usual darkly comic cautionary tales, but also some bracingly and impressively new works from the prolific author (The Women, 2009, etc.). Many of these 13 short stories echo a bit too closely Boyle's numerous earlier envisionings of human greed and stupidity, and the harsh ways in which nature outwits and punishes us all. In "La Conchita," the delivery of a human liver destined for transplant is compromised by an epic California mudslide. How to vote on a resolution to protect indigenous wildlife ("Question 62") assumes new meaning for a gentle young widow when a mountain lion begins patrolling her neighborhood. A high-school biology teacher learns just how impassioned the debate over evolution vs. creationism has become ("Bulletproof"); a lonely widower acquires an unconventional pet, incurring the interference of "Thirteen Hundred Rats"; and a veteran babysitter indulges the wishes of a childless rich couple who replace their late Afghan hound with a ridiculously expensive cloned canine ("Admiral"). Boyle nods off elsewhere, in the limp tale of a Botoxed beauty's unrequited love for her sleek surgeon ("Hands On"), and in depictions of neighborhood enmity exacerbated by wildfires ("Ash Monday") and drug-addicted vocalists pretending to rediscover their humanity while recording a Christmas novelty tune ("Three Quarters of the Way to Hell"). But he's at his best in an icy portrayal of a contemptible new dad who exploits his baby daughter to enable his shiftlessness ("The Lie"), and in "Sin Dolor," the tale of a boy born unable to feel pain and victimized by both his greedy father and the amoral physician who sees only material for a revolutionary case study. Better still is the titlenovella, a rich reimagining of the story of the Wild Boy of Aveyron, a feral innocent who deserves a better fate than forced integration into "civilization," which inevitably destroys him. With each book Boyle becomes a more adventurous and interesting writer.
The Barnes & Noble Review

We meet quite a few drinkers in T.C. Boyle's new story collection Wild Child.  One bar, for example, at 8am shelters " . . . congenital losers and pinch-faced retirees hunched over a double vodka as if it was going to give them back the key to their personalities . . . ."  In another dive, "All you see, really, beyond the shifting colors of the TV, is the soft backlit glow of the bottles on display behind the bar dissolving into a hundred soothing glints of gold and copper."    In yet another, "The door swung in on a denseness of purpose, eight or nine losers lined up on their barstools, the smell of cut lime and the sunshine of the run, a straight shot of Lysol from the toilet in back."  Elsewhere, a knowing twelve year-old observes her father "sitting on a stool at the kitchen counter, sipping something out of a mug, not coffee, definitely not coffee."


In the best of these fourteen stories, Boyle captures individuals as they straddle the gap between despair and escape:  the drunken, philandering father in "Balto;" the trapped new father in "The Lie;" the unhinged widower in "Thirteen Hundred Rats;" the woman enthralled by her plastic surgeon in "Hands On;" the woman who spends her days dog-sitting a cloned puppy in "Admiral."  Comedy, often dazzlingly satirical, relieves the despair (few writers can make us both smile and squirm as Boyle does) while complacency is mercilessly skewered.   Whether the setting is affluent California, outlaw Venezuela or 19th-century France, each drama here is beautifully distilled to reveal the emotional truth at its core.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143118640
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/22/2011
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 584,456
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.60 (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.


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:

Table of Contents

Balto 1

La Conchita 23

Question 62 37

Sin Dolor 59

Bulletproof 79

Hands On 101

The Lie 111

The Unlucky Mother of Aquiles Maldonado 127

Admiral 147

Ash Monday 169

Thirteen Hundred Rats 189

Anacapa 205

Three Quarters of the Way to Hell 225

Wild Child 239

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 13 of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 19, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Reading short fiction, when it is GOOD short fiction, is akin

    Reading short fiction, when it is GOOD short fiction, is akin to reading a novel in a few pages.  The author must use fewer words to quickly: draw the reader into an unfamiliar world, connect them sufficiently with strangers so that what happens to those strangers “matters” to the reader and set a pace that flows without being rushed.  After reading a well-written short story, I find it best to but the book aside for a bit and savor what I have just experienced/read.  Based upon this book, T. C. Boyle’s is an awfully good short-form fiction writer.
    The fourteen stories that make up this collection are eclectic, seeming to have no central theme around which the stories evolve, then the theme of nature makes begins to assert itself, as subtly as a root loosening a foundation, in each tale. This type of fiction is a two-edged sword – it is a delight to have fourteen new stories to dive into in a relatively short amount of time and it is difficult to quickly move from one “stand alone” tale to another without much space to ponder where one has been or where one is headed next.  All of the stories have an edge of tension woven in them.  I found myself dreading the dire occurrences that were about to happen in each of the tales, even though there was no reason for such suspicion.  As I considered this, as to have such unease arise as I read is unusual, it seemed that Mr. Boyle had created enough anticipation in such a short time that I did not want anything “bad” to befall any of my new “friends” and his tales were speaking to a deeper part of me than I had realized.  
    The three stories that spoke loudest to me were “Question 62,” “Admiral,” and the novella from which the book gets its title, “Wild Child.”  “Question 62” has the action occurring, concurrently, in the warmth of Santa Monica, CA and the frigid Minnesota winter.  The main characters in both tales are confronted with what nature will do to sustain itself and how hard humans have to work to keep “nature” from taking its course.   “Admiral” magnifies the wasteful arrogance too often found in opulence and the lengths people are willing to strive to keep “things the way they are.”  Finally, “Wild Child” is the retelling of the legendary story of Victor, a feral child “caught” in 1800 in France.  After reading further of the history of Victor, Mr. Boyle appears to merely be reminding the reader of this legend.  By far the saddest of the collection, it is the megaphone the author uses to highlight the other tales. The story suggests that civilization is the illusion we all hold and by which we measure the worth of all things.  Unless something “wild” can be tamed it is of little use.  
    My only drawback to this edition is that I choose to listen to it on compact disc rather than read it from a page.  The audio allowed the author to interpret his words but disallowed me the space to create my own voice in the tale.  This is a book that BEGS to be read, not just heard.  

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  • Posted April 13, 2011


    This book of short stories, great.

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  • Posted March 9, 2011

    Interesting but unsatisfied

    This a collection of short stories (finger quotes here) that felt more like unfinished writing assignments. The story ideas and the written material is really good....but the srories had no endings. I found that frustrating but the material was so good I did finish the book. If you have a voracious appetite for all things literal then I encourage you to give it a whirl. If patience is not your thing you might want to pass.

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  • Posted June 12, 2010

    I passed many hours happily immersed in these stories!

    Wild Child is T.C. Boyle's latest collection of short stories. The majority of these stories are about the chaos that nature injects in everyday, orderly life and how that chaos changes people. Mudslides, escaped tigers, thousands of rats, and feral boys all rampage across these pages challenging people and changing them. There is a tinge of magical realism in some of the stories, plenty of tragedy, and even a sprinkling of hope.

    What struck me most about these stories was how often I wanted more of the story. The characters themselves were often not very likable, but the situations and their actions were so interesting that I was left curious about the outcome. Did the two pothead singers make amazing music together and become famous? Did the liver make it to the recipient in time? Short stories are not normally my favorite genre, but when they are well written they show you a slice of a life, just a moment or two, that marks something significant and reveals the essence of that life. TC Boyle accomplishes that with this creative, wild collection.

    I listened to the audio version of this book, read by the author himself. He does a fine job of the reading especially emphasizing the irony and dry humor in the stories. I passed many hours happily immersed in these stories and was reminded to pick up more by T.C. Boyle.

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  • Posted February 28, 2010

    more from this reviewer


    Some of my happiest childhood memories are of the hours spent curled on my grandfather's lap as he told me stories. I later learned he began with nursery rhymes then as I grew moved on to stories of his boyhood and then to reading children's classics to me. Perhaps this is why I'm so partial to audiobooks, the pleasure of relaxing in a favorite chair and being told a story. In the case of WILD CHILD, the enjoyment is fourteen fold - yes, fourteen stories in the ninth collection by the eminent T.C. Boyle.

    The powerful titular story is by far the longest, actually a novella, and based on history - in 1797 a feral child, Victor of Aveyron, was found somewhere in France's wilderness, and given over to the care of a Parisian doctor who strove to teach the boy the ways of civilization. Unsurprisingly it was a struggle; the heart of the tale lies in Victor's observations.

    "Sin Dolor," features a Mexican boy who evidently doesn't feel physical pain. He' quite capable of burning himself with no ill effects or happily playing with deadly insects. It doesn't take his father long to realize that he can make money by taking the boy throughout the country in what we once called freak shows. The boy was compelled endure pain for ticket buying audiences. He exhibits "feats of senseless torture" and experiences an agony that is not physical.

    Boyle treats us to varying situations and characters - a father who lies about his baby in order to get out of work, an escaped tiger, a town embroiled in a Creationism controversy, an alcoholic's treatment of his daughter.

    All of these stories are vintage Boyle causing us to consider, to ponder our own actions and reactions. Doubling the pleasure for this listener was hearing Boyle reading his own works, bringing to each the nuances and emphases probably known only to the author himself.


    - Gail Cooke

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