Friday, November 9, 2012

T.C. Boyle – When the Killing’s Done

What does it mean to be compassionate? How does one determine the righteous path? T.C. Boyle masterfully explores the ambiguity of morality in this tragic novel. The book follows two animal advocates with violently opposing views. Alma Boyd Takesue is a biologist for the National Park Service spearheading a campaign to kill of the rat and pig populations of California’s Channel Islands in order to allow the indigenous fauna to flourish. This puts her at odds with Dave LaJoy, a more radical animal advocate who believes every animal life is as valuable as the next. Lajoy sees Takesue’s plan as barbarous and cruel while she sees him as ignorant and insane.

As the park service plan moves forward both Alma and Dave find their lives completely turned upside down. Boyle masterfully plays their lives off of each other. Their personal struggles eerily mirror each other and inevitably lead them towards increasingly violent confrontations. Boyle balances action and internal monologue well, fleshing out full characters while still moving the plot along. I got very emotionally involved in this book, throwing it down after traumatic events transpire and eagerly ignoring my work to greedily turn more pages.

There is a powerful undercurrent of violence and powerlessness that cuts through this novel. For example, the following passage is an account of Lajoy’s girlfriend Anise’s childhood on an isolate ranch on one of the Channel Islands:
She got to the lamb within seconds – it was right there, no more than fifty feet away – kicking at the black sheen of the wings and the quick reptilian stab of the slick bloodied beaks, but she was too late, the birds bounding away in short contemptuous hops till they got wings under them and glided off while the lamb thrashed in the grass. She watched it shudder along its length, attempting to lift its head, thrusting out its legs for balance, but its eyes were gone and the pale drum of its abdomen was sheeted in red.
The sea plays an important role; Alma’s life has been defined by it up to this point as it claimed both the life of her grandfather and her father. Lajoy is an avid sailor who will find his life increasingly shaped by the sea’s volatile nature. Fate is at work here, fate in the cruel Greek sense of Moirai: an inevitable turning gyre of tragedy that cannot be avoided. I very much enjoyed the ominous sensation I got while reading the book. It is definitely a masterful piece of writing. 

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