Boyle's eighth novel reenters the risky territory of social concern and criticism that has proved a trap for his least characteristic, and weakest, fiction (East is East, 1990; The Tortilla Curtain, 1995).
In skillfully juxtaposed parallel narratives, reformed radical environmentalist Tyrone O'Shaughnessy Tierwater (the rhythm and ethnicity of whose name connote an authorial connection) speaks to us from the year 2025—alternating with the omniscient narrator who describes Ty's acts of ecoterrorism (mostly against California logging companies) as a member of Earth Forever! and their disastrous impact on his life and opinions. In the late 1980s, Ty, his militant wife and co-protestor/demonstrator Andrea, and their even more committed daughter Sierra ("so imbued with the principles of Deep Ecology she insisted on the ethical treatment not only of plants and animals, but even rocks and dirt") erected human barricades, disabled construction equipment, and embodied "statements," including a kind of Adam-and-Eve month in the woods and Sierra's encampment in a giant redwood tree, oblivious to both the machinations of loggers and her own safety. In 2025, Ty, now 75 and still at heart earth-friendly, manages a private menagerie owned by megamillionaire rock star Maclovio Pulchris—in a globally warmed world where entire countries have become swamps and deserts and continual flooding requires releasing animals from their cages: with predictable comic- horrible consequences. There's a lot to like in this bold accusatory book, because (as he failed to do in The Tortilla Curtain) Boyle locates the complex issue of exploiting people to protest the exploitation of nature in the vivid character of Ty, whose irascibility, genuine decency and courage, and sobered realization of the cost of their sacrifices ("There is nothing I want, except the world the way it was") maintain a firm grip on the reader's sympathies.
The comedy and color are muted, though still unmistakably present, in a daring story that blends the contrasting extremes of Boyle's energetic sensibility in a way that bodes well for his always interesting and highly readable fiction.