In T.C. Boyle's New Novel, A Series Of Battles

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In the tradition of some California-based novelists of the 20th century, T.C. Boyle has taken up large social questions and presented them with intensity and, sometimes, intense irony. In his new novel, When the Killing's Done, the intensity grows out of a series of battles.


In the tradition of California-based writers like Frank Norris and Upton Sinclair, T.C. Boyle seems to enjoy taking up big social questions. His new novel is set mostly on the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara. And in it, Boyle's characters play out the search for a balance between humans and the rest of the natural world.

The novel is called "When the Killing's Done," and Alan Cheuse has our review.

ALAN CHEUSE: Alma Boyd Takesue, a plain-Jane government biologist, takes up the role of protecting the native wildlife on the Channel Islands from newcomers such as rats and wild pigs. Her nemesis is Dave LaJoy, a local dreadlock-draped businessman with a need for a course in anger management.

The running battle they fight over the Park Service's plan to poison all the rats on Anacapa Island escalates into an even larger confrontation when Alma and her government cohort and hired New Zealand sharpshooters go to war against the pigs on Santa Cruz Island.

All of this Boyle sets against the background of a series of shipwrecks in the Channel, the first and most harrowing survived by Alma's grandmother in the 1940s.

Boyle narrates all of this with vigor and insight, making reading pleasure one of the fortunate consequences of his latest attempt to show us the modern world in all of its boiling social heat and languid natural beauty.

Even as the death of one of the animal rights activists turns this novel darker and darker, the natural setting remains what it has always been. Read this engaging and lively and timely story, with the truths on both sides of the human arguments neatly dramatized, weighed and balanced, and a wild homage to the power of the natural world.

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SIEGEL: The book is called "When the Killing's Done" by T.C. Boyle. Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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