If, as we are frequently cautioned, ecological collapse is imminent, the future might someday resemble T.C. Boyle's vision of Southern California, circa 2025: strafing wind, extortionate heat, vast species extinction, and a ramshackle, dispirited populace. A more bleak backdrop--part Blade Runner
, part Silent Spring
--for his eighth novel is difficult to imagine. But the ever-mischievous, ever-inventive Boyle is all too willing to disoblige; and so, in extended homage to early Vonnegut, his Sierra Club nightmare is rendered, well, comically
. Toss in streaks of unabashed sentimentality, a scattershot satire, and several signature narrative ambushes, and A Friend of the Earth
only further embellishes the already prodigious Boyle reputation.
During the 1980s and '90s, Ty Tierwater had exchanged a sedately acquisitive existence--"the slow-rolling glacier of my old life, my criminal life, the life I led before I became a friend of the earth"--for a fairly ambivalent position on the front lines of an ecoterrorist posse called Earth Forever! The only complication is his dual penchant for empathy and ineptitude, exacerbated by a frustration that swells with accumulating incitements. After his daughter is taken from him, and his second wife, Andrea, becomes more committed to the cause than to their marriage, Ty finds solace in blind destruction. He serves his almost predictable terms in jail; he endures the eventual death--and martyrdom--of his activist daughter, Sierra. At 75, and a quarter of the way into the dismal and decayed 21st century, he unaccountably finds himself tending an eccentric rock star's private mini-zoo of ragged animals and wryly lamenting the collapse of his race. And then Andrea resurfaces--along with his long-fallow faith in love.
Old Testament digression stalks Ty throughout A Friend of the Earth, from a publicity-stunt-cum-Edenic-retreat during his heady Earth Forever! days to a chaotic menagerie roundup amidst flooding rainfall. Boyle's future, however, is less apocalyptic than resigned, more drearily pragmatic than angst-ridden. It's a world Ty ultimately finds untenable: a constricted diversity, ecological or ideological, proves stultifying, a fact he only dimly recognized while awash in his earlier radicalism. "To be a friend of the earth," he avers in retrospect, "you have to be an enemy of the people." Boyle's spirited tale sustains the brashness of Ty's convictions. --Ben Guterson
From Publishers Weekly
Mordantly funny and inventive, this take-no-prisoners novel revolves around a few of Boyle's favorite themes: obsessive hygiene, compulsive consumerism, uneasiness in the natural world and fear of technology. As the Vonnegutishly named Tyrone "Ty" O'Shaughnessy Tierwater reminds readers, "to be a friend of the earth you have to be an enemy of the people." In the year 2025, Ty is 75, by contemporary standards a young-old man, and zookeeper for a private menagerie in Santa Ynez, Calif. Most mammals are extinct, and the environment as 20th-century humans knew it is destroyed. Besieged by floods, drought and Force 8 winds, people tramp through pestilential mud, eat farm-grown catfish and drink rice wine. In flashbacks from the frenetic 21st-century sections to Ty's past as a rabid environmentalist in the late '80s and early '90s, Boyle choreographs a syncopated dance, riffing on the mores and manias of environmental crusaders. To prove a point in their early campaign, Ty and wife Andrea spend 30 days naked and unprovisioned in the wilderness, emerging triumphant. But otherwise, Ty is subjected to a lifelong series of humiliations, and his forthrightness about them makes him sympathetic, while eco-warriors in general are skewered as relentlessly as the bulldozer-driven corporations. A bad time is had by all, most notably by Ty's daughter, the tree-sitting Sierra, who, unlike Julia Butterfly Hill (the real-life tree-sitter who surely influenced Boyle), does not descend from her perch to publishing contracts and public radio interviews. Boyle (The Tortilla Curtain) allows for a hint of redemption in the end, but his depiction of the cruel fate of humankindAthe fate of monkey wrenchers, lumber companies, the not-quite-engaged and the engaged, tooAis as unflinching as it is satirical. Major ad/promo; first serial to Outside magazine; 8-city author tour.
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