I love literature that bends, distorts, twists, or otherwise rips reality apart. But ultimately, I just love great writing. And even though what I write normally has some kind of paranormal or science fiction element to it, one of my biggest, if not the biggest influence on my writing is TC Boyle.
Since I play and record music, my desk is cluttered with speakers, a mixer, and a digital audio workstation. But despite the lack of space, I have two books that I always find room for: a pocket dictionary, and a collection of TC Boyle short stories. For reasons I’m not sure I can fully articulate, I find his work inspiring and motivational. His stories are infused with humor, wit, and social commentary in such a way that I can’t help but fall in love with his work.
In some ways, his use of humor is reminiscent of science fiction author Philip K. Dick, another favorite of mine. It’s subtle, but oh so very clever; expected, but not obvious.
I find myself referring to TC Boyle quite regularly. Whenever I feel slightly unmotivated, I’ll pick up the short stories and start reading them. And every time I do, I find myself swimming in new ideas. Just to be clear, I’m not taking his ideas and running with them, but rather I find certain lines or certain descriptions a source of something new for me in the same way a breathtaking landscape can stimulate or inspire a visual artist.
I’ve even gone as far as typing down a paragraph or two that he’s written and then analyzing every element of it that I can think of from basic mechanical devices to characterization, plot, and description.
That’s not to say that I agree with everything TC Boyle does. For example, he tends to overuse his vast vocabulary. Even though I enjoy learning new words, and get excited whenever I come across one, sometimes he uses them to such a degree that I end up reading more dictionary than I do story. I feel that great writing should send you to the dictionary on occasion, but every once in a while TC Boyle goes on a word rampage. And sometimes, his descriptions though usually concise, clever, and well constructed, come off as too heavily loaded, to a point that you are so busy picturing this thing he is describing that it takes you out of the story. But, to his credit, this only happens on rare occasion.
Besides his short stories, I have also studied, read, and adored his novels: A Friend of the Earth and The Tortilla Curtain. A Friend of the Earth I find especially interesting. In my mind, it’s sci-fi. It’s set a hundred years or so in the future where the Earth is feeling the effects of long term global warming. What I love most about the story though isn’t’ the sci-fi backdrop; it’s the characters. The sci-fi elements only serve to make the characters all the more intriguing.
I first heard of TC Boyle while taking a graduate class on literary analysis. In that class, we read a short story of his called, The Hitman. From what I understand, it is probably his most famous short story, and rightfully so. It contains all the elements that I love about TC Boyle: his hyperbolic humor, his wit, his overall writing style, and creates a character that you paradoxically hate and love all at the same time.