They were both expert in the social graces, quick with a sneer, able to manage a Ford with lousy shocks over a rutted and gutted blacktop road at eighty-five while rolling a joint as compact as a Tootsie Roll Pop stick. They could lounge against a bank of booming speakers and trade “man”s with the best of them or roll out across the dance floor as if their joints worked on bearings. They were slick and quick and they wore their mirror shades at breakfast and dinner, in the shower, in closets and caves. In short, they were bad.
When I ask for suggested stories, usually by a specific author, I get some good recommendations. It seems, though, that it takes a while for me to get around to reading them or I end up forgetting. So I thought I would try to read and post about a few that have been recommended to me in recent months.
The first one comes recommended by Short Story Magic Tricks. If you haven’t checked this blog out – you should. I have been looking for the T. C. Boyle story that was going to really blow me away. And I think “Greasy Lake” is the one. It’s definitely the best of Boyle’s stories that I’ve read so far and that’s not saying the others weren’t good. In addition to being good, they are also very funny. “Greasy Lake” definitely made me laugh the most.
Boyle writes this story with a brilliant contrast that accounts for so much of its comedy. The boys in the story may seem sinister and the story itself, set at Greasy Lake in the dark, has a sinister aspect to it, too. But the way Boyle sneaks in small details among the many descriptions of these “hoods”, like details of their pampered college life, starts the chuckles rolling and they don’t stop until the end.
Here are my other posts about T. C. Boyle stories:
The Hector Quesadilla Story
Filthy With Things
The Devil and Irv Cherniske
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I enjoy stories where characters make a deal with the devil – like Robert Johnson going down to the crossroads or a Georgia boy entering a fiddle playing contest. Both of those have a musical theme, too. Of course, that might be an additional reason why I like those two stories.
When I included T. C. Boyle’s short story “The Devil and Irv Cherniske” on my Deal Me In 2016 list, I was looking forward to reading another version. I also happen to enjoy an author who can take a tried and true formula and make it their own. And Boyle pretty much does that with this story.
I’m probably stereotyping a little bit, but the name Irv Cherniske brought up images of someone rather quirky and given what little I knew about Boyle’s writing, I figured “quirky” would be right up his alley. However, the character of Irv in the story isn’t quite what I imagined. Irv actually already has a lot of the devil in him prior to his negotiations with the Evil One.
One of the little twists Boyle adds to his story involves a side deal with Irv’s wife. You’ll have to read the story to determine for whom or whether this side deal ends well. Another twist has Irv, in his later years, rethinking this bargain. So he ends up seeing Reverend Jimmy, who, being from “Staten Island [still] spoke in the Alabama hog farmer’s dialect peculiar to his tribe.”
So ulitmately, Irv sells his soul for money and then uses his money to try to buy it back.
Again, read the story to find out which side finally gets Irv.
This story is included in my copy of The Best American Catholic Short Stories edited by Daniel McVeigh and Patricia Schnapp. I read it when I selected the Jack of Clubs for Week 34 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
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Julian and Marsha have an issue with organization and accumulating things in T. C. Boyle’s short story “Filthy With Things” which is included in my copy of The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it this week when I selected the Ten of Spades for Week 33 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
Boyle achieves significant hilarity early on in the story by frequently including the description of some oddball antique or quirky collectible throughout the plot:
If they were to drain the pool, where would Marsha keep her museum-quality collection of Early American whaling implements, buoys and ship’s furniture, not to mention the two hundred twelve antique oarlocks currently mounted on the pool fence?
Susan Certaine (great name!) enters the picture offering her paid services with Nazi-like intensity. She uses Imelda Marcos’ shoe problem as a reference and Julian hires her for “help”.
As the story continues, Susan Certaine and her squad cease to be Nazi-like and become actually totalitarian in their control over Julian and his wife. This still makes for an excellent story; however, it’s not as funny as it began. Of course, I’ve always been one to think a little bit of clutter makes a house more of a home.
This is the second story by T. C. Boyle that I’ve read (the other one was “The Hector Quesadilla Story” for Week 1 of DMI 2016) and while I’ve enjoyed them very much, I’m still waiting for the one that will completely blow me away. I feel like it’s out there somewhere. Next week, I will be reading another Boyle story “The Devil and Irv Cherniske”. Maybe that will be the one.
How about you? Any T. C. Boyle suggestions?
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Me against you. My record, my career, my house, my family, my life, my mutual funds and beer distributorship against yours. He’s been hit in the elbow, the knee, the groin, the head. Nothing fazes him. Nothing. Murmuring a prayer to Santa Griselda, patroness of the sun-blasted Sonoran village where he was born like a heat blister on his mother’s womb, Hector Hernan Jesus y Maria Quesadilla will step into the batter’s box, ready for anything.
It’s the first week of Deal Me In 2016 and I’ve selected the Ace of Diamonds which brings me to “The Hector Quesadilla Story” by T. Coraghessan Boyle. This also happens to be the first work of Boyle’s that I’ve read even though I have read numerous posts from fellow book bloggers about his work. This story is included in my copy of Baseball’s Best Short Stories edited by Paul D. Staudohar. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
“The Hector Quesadilla Story” is the age-old story of an aging baseball player. I have to give Boyle credit for giving it his own spin and making it into something more than a cliche. Boyle’s writing, at least in this story, is choppy but the choppiness gives the writing a wittiness that keeps it from just being choppy.
Hector’s family attends a game in which Hector is expecting to be asked to play. I found it humorous (and an interesting touch) that throughout most of the game when Hector looks up at his family in the stands, he sees his son reading a book.
As the game comes to a point where Hector is thinking he will be asked to play, Hector’s imagination begins to take over – or so we think. It’s difficult to determine whether the action is actually taking place or whether it’s in Hector’s head. And that vagueness makes the story’s ending work. I am able to appreciate stories that don’t have definite conclusions; however, I feel a baseball game needs to have some sort of concrete ending – who wins and who loses?
Unless, of course, it’s a game that goes on forever in the thoughts of an aging player.