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 radio co-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.