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San Miguel: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

T.C. Boyle
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $9.41
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Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

The brilliant and acclaimed New York Times bestseller from the author of The Women and When the Killing’s Done

Just off the coast of Southern California, two families—one in the 1880s and one in the 1930s—come to desolate, windswept San Miguel Island in search of self-reliance, freedom, and a new start in their lives. Both Marantha Waters and Elise Lester strive to help their war veteran husbands pursue their dreams but must themselves grapple with the more nebulous hardships of raising a family in brutal isolation. Boyle “skillfully captures that tension-filled quietude” (The New Times Book Review) in this lyrical, intimate, and unforgettable novel.

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: 1284 KB
  • Print Length: 385 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0670026247
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (September 18, 2012)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007V65Q64
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #160,269 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
77 of 85 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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14 of 15 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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16 of 18 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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19 of 22 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
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 5 hours ago by Geoff Crocker
5.0 out of 5 stars Boyle spins another fine adventure.
T.C. Boyle spins another fine adventure.
Published 18 days ago by Craig M. Renwick
1.0 out of 5 stars not worth buying nor reading
I enjoyed reading Tortilla Curtain even if it was a very depressing story, at least the plot made sense and the characters were well developed. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Katherine
3.0 out of 5 stars ... lot of Boyle novels and this is my least favorite.
I have read a lot of Boyle novels and this is my least favorite.
Published 1 month ago by donald e. dorfman
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Met all expectations
Published 1 month ago by Norma West
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting view of human tolerance and acceptance living apart ...
An interesting view of human tolerance and acceptance living apart from society in a harsh environment. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Bayrider
3.0 out of 5 stars I think this could have been written by Tedious Boyle. Rain
I think this could have been written by Tedious Boyle. Rain, coughing up blood, more rain. Oh my goodness. The first third of the book was only about rain and coughing..... Read more
Published 2 months ago by San Diego Paula
5.0 out of 5 stars Great art
Beautifully written, great story telling. However, this is no easy read, it is melancholic and not something to cheer one up.
Published 2 months ago by knull
4.0 out of 5 stars Mesmerizing
As usual, T.C. Boyle makes the characters and the setting come alive. A book you can't wait to sit down and get lost in.
Published 3 months ago by S.R. Holman
5.0 out of 5 stars A Novel To Get Lost In
The nature descriptions in this novel are wonderfully powerful-- a signifiant part of the action and motivation for Boyle's true- life characters. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Jean Gross
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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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