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San Miguel: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

T.C. Boyle
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)

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Kindle Price: $10.71
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Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Women, a historical novel about three women’s lives on a California island

On a tiny, desolate, windswept island off the coast of Southern California, two families, one in the 1880s and one in the 1930s, come to start new lives and pursue dreams of self-reliance and freedom. Their extraordinary stories, full of struggle and hope, are the subject of T. C. Boyle’s haunting new novel.

Thirty-eight-year-old Marantha Waters arrives on San Miguel on New Year’s Day 1888 to restore her failing health.  Joined by her husband, a stubborn, driven Civil War veteran who will take over the operation of the sheep ranch on the island, Marantha strives  to persevere in the face of the hardships, some anticipated and some not, of living in such brutal isolation. Two years later their adopted teenage daughter, Edith, an aspiring actress, will exploit every opportunity to escape the captivity her father has imposed on her.  Time closes in on them all and as the new century approaches, the ranch stands untenanted. And then in March 1930, Elise Lester, a librarian from New York City, settles on San Miguel with her husband, Herbie, a World War I veteran full of manic energy.  As the years go on they find a measure of fulfillment and serenity; Elise gives birth to two daughters, and the family even achieves a celebrity of sorts. But will the peace and beauty of the island see them through the impending war as it had seen them through the Depression?

Rendered in Boyle’s accomplished, assured voice, with great period detail and utterly memorable characters, this is a moving and dramatic work from one of America’s most talented and inventive storytellers.

Editorial Reviews


Praise for San Miguel

“An absorbing work of historical fiction based on the lives of two real families who resided on San Miguel island in the 19th and 20th centuries…the intensity of Boyle’s narrative never lets it flag.” –Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“A saga of women, three women brought to the island by men…Boyle has carved out a beautiful, damp, atmospheric novel, sharp and exacting…[his] spirited novels are a reckoning with consequence laced with humor, insight, and pathos.” –Terry Tempest Williams, The San Francisco Chronicle

“Throughout his career, Boyle has shown a fascination with remote, forgotten places as a kind of stage where various shadings of the American character are revealed…As always, he fills his pages with wonderfully precise character studies and lush descriptions of the physical landscape.”  –Hector Tobar, The Los Angeles Times

“The story of two families who lived on the windiest and wildest of the Channel Islands…the layering of these isolated lives, the archeology of human habitation, the different responses to self-sufficiency make this one of the most satisfying novels in Boyle’s canon.”  –Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Magazine

“In T.C. Boyle’s San Miguel, two strong women generations apart are seduced and mistreated by the same powerful entity – not a man but a starkly beautiful, barely inhabited island off the California coast…Boyle portrays the heartbreaking toll San Miguel takes on these couples in a novel as beguiling as the island itself.” O The Oprah Magazine

“In his latest novel, this prolific man of letters focuses on one of his most engaging subjects: the inner lives of women…Boyle devotes meticulous attention to the unforgiving weather and the challenges of sheer survival, to the mute compromises of marriage and to the unspoken experience of all women who rage, endure, and prevail.” More Magazine

 “The pioneer mystique – its romance, and its disillusions – is the subject of T.C. Boyle’s San Miguel, in which the promise of a natural paradise draws two adventure-seeking women to the remote Channel Islands, fifty years apart.”

“Boyle’s epic saga of struggle, loss, and resilience tackles Pacific pioneer history with literary verve…[he] subtly interweaves the fates of Native Americans, Irish immigrants, Spanish and Italian migrant workers, and Chinese fisherman into the Waters’ and Lesters’ lives, but the novel is primarily a history of the land itself, unchanging despite its various visitors and residents, and as beautiful, imperfect, and unrelenting as Boyle’s characters.” Publishers Weekly

“A richly rewarding read…As ever, Boyle’s prose is vivid and precise, and he imbues his subjects with wonderful complexity.  The perils and pleasures of island living, the limits to natural resources, and the echoes of war all provide ample grist for his mill.”ALA Booklist

“The fourteenth novel from Boyle returns to the Channel Islands off the coast of California, a setting which served him so well in his previous novel…What may seem to some like paradise offers no happy endings in this fine novel.”Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

T. C. Boyle is the author of thirteen novels, including World’s End, which won the 1987 PEN/Faulkner Award; Drop City, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and the New York Times bestseller The Women. He has also published nine collections of stories and was the recipient of the prestigious PEN/Malmud Award for Excellence in the short story.  His stories appear in The New Yorker, GQ, Esquire, McSweeney’s, and Playboy. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, he lives in California.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1445 KB
  • Print Length: 385 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0147509750
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (September 18, 2012)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007V65Q64
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,307 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
78 of 86 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Three women struggle with the isolation of island life September 18, 2012
The most distant of the Channel Islands from the coast of California is rain-soaked, wind-swept, and populated by sheep. In San Miguel, T. Coraghessan Boyle tells the stories of three women who made the island their home. While fans of character-driven historical fiction featuring strong women should be pleased with San Miguel, readers who gravitate to plot-driven fiction will probably find this novel less satisfying than some of Boyle's earlier, more captivating work.

Part one tells Marantha's story. It is a masterful portrayal of a woman struggling to control the dark side of her personality, to adapt gracefully to miserable circumstances while coping with failing health. In the late nineteenth century, Marantha joins her second husband (Will Waters) and adopted daughter (Edith) on San Miguel where, with Marantha's money, Will has purchased a half interest in a sheep farm. Marantha hopes to recuperate from consumption but soon realizes that a rainy, windy island is the wrong setting in which to salvage her health ... or, for that matter, her marriage. To paraphrase The Clash: Will she stay or will she go?

With Marantha, Boyle is at his best, creating a carefully nuanced character and describing her life in powerful terms. Marantha knows she has become "a crabbed miserable thing who said no to everything, to every pleasure and delight no matter how small or meaningless," but that is not the person she wants to be. As only a gifted writer can do, Boyle generates sympathy and understanding for a character whose thoughts and behavior are often spiteful.

Part two shifts the focus to Edith and her frustrated desire to be independent, free from her stepfather's tyranny.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A haunting novel of desolation and grace September 28, 2012
By raisa
This is historical fiction about life on San Miguel, a wild and remote island off the coast of Santa Barbara. San Miguel is barren and treeless, wracked by wind and sea, barely fertile enough to support the sheep that overrun it. Whether it can also support a family - and at what cost - is the heart of the story. The book starts in 1888 when Marantha arrives with her husband Will, their stepdaughter Edith and their maid. Marantha is ill with consumption, and the "fresh island air" is supposed to be healing. She is dismayed to discover conditions far worse (and challenges far greater) than she is prepared to confront.

Marantha is a difficult character to like. At times her complaints are justified (such as when she awakes, spasmodic with tuberculosis, in a bed soaked with cold rain from the leaking roof). But often she is as tiresome as she is tired: she knows she should "show a brave face," but does she even try to cope with mismatched china and the monotonous society of their two ranch hands? On one hand, she is sympathetic because of her difficulties (she cannot climb the island's hills and cliffs, she can't voice her frustrations without falling into a spasm of choking coughs). On the other hand, it's a story of desperation - if life on San Miguel refuses to nurture her, can she only be bitter in return?

In Part 2, Marantha's story recedes and the book follows her daughter Edith. On San Miguel during her teen years, Edith is untamed but craves society. This story has less depth, and might be best read as a mid-novel coda to Marantha's decline. Edith is vivacious where her mother was weak, petulant where her mother silently shrieked. But, even with strength and a voice that Marantha never found, Edith may not have much more to say.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A departure for Boyle, and yet typical September 23, 2012
Historical fiction is rarely this flawless, but many T. C. Boyle fans may find San Miguel a jarring departure from Boyle's usual rock-and-roll black humor. I've enjoyed the dark and wicked wit of Boyle's works, but everything I love best about Boyle is here. A chilling mastery of narrative distance, the omnipresent battle with nature red in tooth and claw, the harsh death of the Utopian dream, and characterization so all-consuming that I felt I had to tear myself loose from each central female character (Maranatha, Edith, and Elise) in turn.

I've often wondered what fictional magic would occur if Boyle expanded his inimitable short stories into novellas, giving the rich characterization a chance to really take hold. This novel is really a triptych of fully realized novellas, all sharing the same setting and one minor character. The reader faces the Boylean dilemma yet again. With everything rigged against us, including nature itself and our own human aspirations and limitations, how do people survive and achieve the good life? If we had reached the good life, would we even realize it?
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A surprisingly honest and empathetic historical novel October 31, 2012
If I had read this book without knowing who wrote it, probably my last guess would've been T.C. Boyle. I re-read "Wellville" recently, and was again struck by how the male characters are treated as weak buffoons. This is the fourth book of his I've read, and it's the first real historical novel of the four. The others (World's End, East is East, Wellville) all seem to be about showing off how clever the author is and how stupid people can be--and isn't it fun to watch them slip and fall? Ha ha ha.

In "San Miguel," the men are once again making foolish plans and dragging their families along for the ride, but this time the author shows empathy for his characters. This is a book about the American Dream of a place of one's own, and how that dream can become a fatal delusion. Like the sodbusters before them, scratching out a living from the plains as the country grew westward, these two families take a chance on their dream. But this time out, Boyle is not up in his ivory tower laughing at the fools down below. Instead, he presents their story as clearly and truthfully as he can, leaving the reading to pass judgement (or not) and to share in their sorrows and joys.

This is a difficult book to read, due to the difficult lives of the people who tried to make a life out on the edge of the old frontier. But I'm glad I stuck with it. I look forward to Boyle's next work. I hope he continues in this new vein, writing historical fiction honestly, and with empathy.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Just OK Boyle
As a longtime fan of TCB, I always eagerly await his latest novel or story collection and this was no different. Read more
Published 12 days ago by W. M. Dix
4.0 out of 5 stars Historical Novel
This was a Book Club choice. If you like historical novels you will like this. It was interesting to learn more about the early people who lived on San Miguel Island which is... Read more
Published 21 days ago by Carol I. Bowery
2.0 out of 5 stars booooooorrrrriiiinnngggg - I love tc boyles stuff but this was really...
booooooorrrrriiiinnngggg - I love tc boyles stuff but this was really hard to read.
Published 23 days ago by Jim
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great story
T.C. Boyle writes absorbing stories about fascinating people. After reading this latest novel I wanted to travel to San Miguel and see all the places that Elise and Edith... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Thomas J Brown Jr
5.0 out of 5 stars riveting story
I love how T.C. Boyle takes historical context and uses it to make a riveting story. I was not disappointed with this book.
Published 2 months ago by Vegigirl
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard start, compelling to the end.
Tough but rewarding read. While billed as "historical fiction" the tale is very close to the actual history of the Lester family on the island. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Michael S. Post
4.0 out of 5 stars Third book I've read by T. C. Boyle ...
Third book I've read by T.C.Boyle. He combines history with fiction in an absorbing way. I live on the CA Coast, so am familiar with the Channel Islands, as well as Montecito and... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Dottie Thompson
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written - based on the true story of the ...
Beautifully written - based on the true story of the settlers who endured the hardships of a remote, beautiful island with terrible weather. ,
Published 4 months ago by B. Biega
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
not my taste
Published 4 months ago by josie
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, cosmic in scope, but movingly human
T C Boyle's writing is utterly engaging. He draws his characters deeply, vividly, and empathetically. You get to know them. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Geoff Crocker
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More About the Author

T. C. Boyle is the author of eleven novels, including World's End (winner of the PEN/FaulknerAward), Drop City (a New York Times bestseller and finalist for the National Book Award), and The Inner Circle. His most recent story collections are Tooth and Claw and The Human Fly and Other Stories.

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