Snotchocheez's Reviews > When the Killing's Done

When the Killing's Done by T.C. Boyle
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's review
Sep 09, 2011

really liked it
Read from September 02 to 08, 2011

Few novelists possess the chutzpah (or the talent, for that matter) to write coherent novels on a wide variety of disparate subjects and themes, with little trepidation of alienating his/her fanbase. Consider TC Boyle's body of work, which avoids pigeon-holing into a particular genre; he's written about topics as varied as turn-of-the-century health spas/sanatoria, the sexual dalliances of Frank Lloyd Wright, the explosion of migrant day-laborers in Los Angeles, free-love communes, and so forth. Not a common theme to be found in any of these works, really, but Boyle tackles each with alacrity and enthusiasm, so much so that the reader can't help but be infected by that enthusiasm as well, and finds himself getting engrossed in a topic that had (up until then) barely registered a radar-blip of recognition or interest. Boyle writes about what he's passionate about (which may well be just about everything) and passes on that enthusiasm to the reader, no matter how arcane the topic.

In "When the Killing's Done" (Boyle's 14th novel) , the author turns his attention to the Channel Islands in California (off the coast of Santa Barbara) and focuses on the battle between the National Park Service, who wishes to eradicate the non-indigenous rat and pig populations on Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands (which are upsetting the evolutionary eco-balance of these islands), and a PETA-esque animal-rights group vehemently opposed to said eradication. The battle is taut and tense, with far-reaching implications; depending on your viewpoint, it's a battle with few winners: Do you let the rats and pigs alone and let them throw off the fragile balance of a closed eco-system, or do you "play God" and kill off a whole species so that others may live? And what makes a fox or a rare bird more deserving to live than a rat or a pig? Boyle provides no ready answers or heavy-handed morality to solve this dilemma; he instead lets his very well-fleshed-out protagonists do battle and allows the reader to make the judgement call. (Well, Boyle may not be completely neutral: his leader of the animal-rights activists is one step below Snidely Whiplash on the despicable scale (the guy's so comedically obnoxious you can almost see him twiddling his handlebar moustache as he plots deeds to thwart the National Park Service). His apposite, Alma Boyd Takesue (the Talking Head/lead biologist for the NPS) is given a little more even-handed treatment, although she, too, is fraught with imperfection. (Her character is exhaustively explored, almost excessively so, with a two-generation-long back-story that could be considered overkill).

Boyle's m.o. has always strayed toward verbosity; this novel, like many of his others, is almost TOO detailed. I find this technique of his totally to my liking (though I can certainly see how others might find his style a little overwrought.) If anything, Boyle's emphasis on detail is crucial for accessibility to all these disparate topics. Not everyone's going to cozy up to a novel about Island Biodiversity, but Boyle's story-telling emphasis on details makes even the most mundane topic one of supreme interest for everyone.
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