70 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2011
I've read all of T. C. Boyle's novels, and most of his short stories, so I'm accustomed to his penchant for florid, baroque prose. However, in his previous novel, The Women, I found myself more distracted than usual by his Rube Goldberg sentences. And in this new book, it seems that almost every sentence is interrupted by numerous paranthetical asides that clog the flow of the narrative and weigh the sentence down with massive amounts of non-essential detail.
If anyone else with a lesser gift for language attempted this sort of thing, I doubt anyone would be reading that author, but Boyle almost gets away with it. Parts of this book are beautifully told, and in places it's as engrossing as one would expect from Boyle. But everything has to be described down to the nth detail, and in places it becomes almost exhausting.
A person can't just walk into the kitchen and make a sandwich. They walk into the kitchen and before you find out what happens next, you're presented with a mini-biography including things the person's grandparents did in Poughkeepsie back in 1829. Then you get back to the making of the sandwich, but before the sandwich gets made, you get a full list of ingredients, including the character's childhood fondness for some of those ingredients based on certain formative experiences. I'm exaggerating somewhat to make my point, but not that much.
The story itself moves in fits and starts. The shipwreck of Alma's grandmother is very well told, as is the sequence of Rita's life on the sheep farm. Dave LaJoy is an interesting character, if only because he is so stupid and obnoxious. His opponent, Alma, is less well delineated; LaJoy is a self-absorbed fanatic while Alma seems almost like the voice of reason.
Boyle's best novels manage to blend his flair for wildly inventive and ornate prose with a strong narrative pace, but in The Women, and now in this new book, his narrative gifts have fallen off and the elaborate spaghetti-code sentences seem to be taking over like kudzu, strangling the story and burying it beneath mountains of unnecessary detail.
Still, it has fine moments, and most Boyle fans will find it enjoyable. Reading it is certainly not a waste of time; it just requires more effort than it should.
78 of 90 people found the following review helpful
Never one to shy away from sacred cow territory or the ruthless ways in which humans stampede it, T.C. Boyle's latest wise epic puts ecologists on a restless collision course with agitated animal rights activists. In his vintage style of tackling issues with snarling drama and incendiary humor, Boyle plots a political novel without sending the reader a preachy message, although he comes right up under it.
Boyle turns eco controversy on its head, turning back to the theme that man's desire to keep a clean footprint on the earth is a messy and dirty job, often with dire consequences. This is Boyle; bully pulpits are bent with irony, and righteousness is fraught with disobedience. Endangerment of the species brings on reckless endangerment of lives. Who has the right to dominate, to possess this planet? Humans, creatures, natural inhabitants, invasive species--several are examined, many left wanting--especially humans.
Restoration ecologist/ biologist and PhD Alma Boyd Takesue spearheads a program with the National Parks Service to exterminate invasive species on the Channel Islands of California. She argues that the infestation of rats and feral pigs are killing off the endemic Channel Island Foxes and disrupting the natural ecosystem.
Her dreadlocked nemesis, businessman Dave LaJoy, knows all about disruption. He protests every one of Alma's presentations to declare war on her efforts, and is opposed to the idea that extirpation leads to preservation. No public presentation by Alma is without LaJoy's outcry.
" `How can you talk about being civil when innocent animals are being tortured to death? Civil? I'll be civil when the killing's done and not a minute before.' "
LaJoy is the contentious head of FPA (For the Protection of Animals), a small organization viewed by ecologists as fanatical. His folksinger girlfriend, Anise Reed, is at his side on this issue, contrary to--or a result of--her childhood on a sheep farm on one of the Northern Channel Islands, Santa Cruz, which ended with a bloodlust tragedy.
Alma has the law of the federal government, if not always nature, on her side, as well as her Park Service employee boyfriend, Tim Sickafoose. LaJoy is the underdog, dependent on citizen donations and ruled by his unbridled rage. He is primed to fight with subversive acts designed to undermine Alma's program. No ecologists will keep LaJoy from his battle to save the animals. Boyle, in his typical rogue tenor, demonstrates that both sides of the fence are imbued with truth and riddled with internal contradictions.
Boyle shifts time periods to illustrate the recent history of the islands and dramatize the inextricable links between past and present, from the introduction of non-native species, to the family connections of Alma and Anise. Alma's grandmother survived a shipwreck near Anacapa while she was pregnant with Alma's mother. Boyle's portrayal of this disaster was stunning, a pinpoint event of woman overcoming the storm of nature's catastrophes with some tragic and triumphant results.
Years later, on Santa Cruz Island, Anise's mother suffered a chilling invasion of corporate corruption and a hideous attack on the sheep farm where she lived and toiled. She had worked hard to keep the hungry ravens from the ewes, their carrion cries now reverberating through the years.
The historical segments were superbly vivid and requisite to the central story, but interspersed throughout were florid narrative ambushes and excursions that slowed the central movement to a crawl. The cadence was generally barky and rough, as choppy as the Channel Island waters, as emphatic and forceful as a winter storm. I never felt that Boyd hit a rhythmic stride; it was loud and strident, with a manic refrain. But there were jewel-cut, Boyle-cut passages within that often lifted off and flew from the turgid overflow.
Although he dodged from sermonizing, it periodically read like an almanac or lecture. His voice tapped in the background, then ceded to the ripe moments of story. It was page-turning terror until the advent of excess fluctuations, like waves crashing against the wily outcroppings of jagged rock. The symmetry was lost at sea, and the climax was drowned in the fury.
However, despite these complaints, I was mentally fastened and stimulated, although the emotional resonance faded by the last hundred pages. It's a visionary story, but it lacks visual constancy except for some eye-popping flourishes.
Also, some of the characters drift off or stagnate, or are trammeled by the themes. It was their "purpose" that overrode their other characteristics. There was something missing emotionally, and I lost interest in them as individuals. But, alas, their absolute certainties are left for the reader to ponder. I am tempted to just say: Boyle was being Boyle, only more so. He is one-of-a-kind, an island of Boyle, and who am I to cross it?
The inclusion of pigs, whether capitalist or feral; the onslaught of rats, both animal and human; a nest of snakes, poisonous or colloquial; and the carrion birds circling the sky are just a few of the metaphorical joists that furnish the narrative and add dimension to the interlocking sequences. As a conservation story, the prose isn't too thrifty, but in the end, you will be glad you read it. I hesitate to say it is significant, but there you go. Boyle is a rare species. It is topical and arch, Boyle and boiling, trenchant and tough.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
In all our communities, we and our neighbors usually share views that are polar opposites. In T.C. Boyle's new novel, When the Killing's Done, he presents the extremes of environmentalism: scientists working to restore ecosystems by killing invasive species versus the animal rights activists who want no animals killed. Boyle builds complexity and empathy into each character, and the conflict in the novel matches the high-decibel rhetoric that dominates our community life. Both sides of this conflict intervene in the ecology of California's Channel Islands. This may be the first Boyle novel that did not have me stop to run to my dictionary every few dozen pages. He maintains his fine style of writing without the distraction of using a vocabulary that strains a reader's patience. As with other fine novels, this is also a story about family and relationships, and each relationship contains complexity and nuance that will keep readers engaged and entertained. Boyle is one of our finest writers, and this novel respects the intelligence of readers and leaves it to us to consider the issues he raises.
Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended)
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2011
Boyle has constructed a complex model of human conflict which demonstrates how our limited perception prevents the resolution of even minor differences. The interesting thing is that Alma Takesue and Dave LaJoy are only a notch apart. They share similar values regarding nature and man's place in it. They want to protect it, which means they want to mess with it. They are both practice a kind of vegetarianism, which is Boyle's sly way of asserting that a vegetarian diet is no substitute for ethical principles. If the novel seems to meander a bit at first, it is only because Boyle is setting up a number of parallel threads that he will ultimately weave together. For instance, in the opening scene, the young woman on the floundering vessel at sea thinks of Coleridge's poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Now you might think it is an inappropriate time to be thinking about Romantic poetry, but Beverly's thought sets the theme for the entire novel. Beverly recalls what her English teach said about the poem. "...it was about nature, the power of it, the hugeness. Don't press your luck. Don't upset the balance. Let the albatross be. Let all the creatures be, for that matter ..." Boyle underscores this theme in countless ways. The sinking of the Beverly B. also foreshadows the sinking of another small craft at the end of the novel. It is really very nicely done. If your first reading does not reveal all of this lovely structure, go back and read the novel again. It is a very satisfying piece of fiction.
Remember that Boyle is a novelist not a biologist. He is an observer of human activity and human nature and human errors. This business on Santa Cruz just provided him with a really good example of good intentions gone awry. (I had to check on the Internet. The Park Service really did this outrageous thing.) The ethical stance of the creator is stated clearly in the beginning, you don't know the consequences of your actions so do as little harm as possible. If it seems wrong (ie. Wantonly slaughtering living creatures); it probably is. It is clear in the context of this story that both Dave and Alma are busy fools. They are deliberately portrayed as insufferably benighted. The question is not whether Dave or Alma is on the right side. Anyone who reached the end of this novel believing that its creator attributes any validity to theories about native and invasive species on any corner of this bit of molten rock we inhabit missed the point. There is no pre-lapsarian Eden where all creatures are in the appropriate places; Boyle underscores this idea repeatedly. All creatures migrate and adapt and in so doing alter the environment they are adapting to. Interference with the process on the part of one of the most destructive, aggressive species on the planet is pure hubris. But, of course, Dave LaJoy recklessly interferes with nature as well just to satisfy a very selfish desire. There is also a common Boyle theme that anyone who does mess with nature will be soon taught a lesson. The idea from the "Tortilla Curtain" is expressed here in a different context. For all our delusions of godlike power, we are very small, vulnerable bits of evolution. Our moral imperative is to love one another. This is a complex examination of a number of current ethical stances regarding our responsibility to each other and the Earth.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2012
Disappointing! I wanted to like the novel, but could not even get close to enjoying it. Mainly, it was overwritten, with thoroughly unlikable characters including the non-human characters. It tried to be a thought-provoking read. The hypocritical behavior of animal-rights activists and the "God" complex of the scientific community are portrayed in the extreme, and the vehicle that drives Boyle's message, which gets lost on a back road. Perhaps less verbage would have helped him in getting to his point quicker.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
I liked the characters, enjoyed the setting, wondered how this was all going to come together and, yet, I just got bogged down in trying to make it to the end. In the balance between plot and description, "When The Killing's Done" is description-heavy. I've read T.C. Boyle off and on and for years and I have to say I admire his rich imagination and enjoyable, lively writing. But "When The Killing's Done" failed to keep me going. My interest sagged and then ground to a halt, about two-thirds of the way in. Ironically, I had just come across this quote from Thomas McGuane and I think it applies in this case: "As you get older, you should get impatient with showing off in literature. It's easier to settle for blazing light than to find a language for the real. Whether you're a writer or a bird dog trainer, life should winnow the superfluous language. The real thing should become plain. You should go straight to what you know best."
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Two separate women, alone, on two different islands in the Santa Barbara Channel - one there by shipwreck, the other some sixty years later by her own design - are the bookend images that T.C. Boyle conjures for us in his latest novel, When the Killing's Done.
The former is biologist Alma Boyd Takesue's grandmother, Beverly, who, in 1946 after an act of God (or nature) swamps her husbands yacht, floats via an ice cooler until washing ashore on the inhospitable island of Anacapa. Once there she discovers a cabin, uninhabited but for the extended family of rats who seem unfazed by her sudden presence. Although, as Alma later relates, not endemic to Anacapa, the rats had pervaded and thrived there for many years, likely arriving by hitching a ride on some splintered timber from one of the channel's myriad shipwrecks. These are very same brood of rodents, descendants of whom Alma, through the auspices of the National Park Service, will, for the benefit of the islands indigenous birds, work to eradicate.
Alma's nemesis turns out to be the founder of the grassroots organization FPA (For the Protection of Animals), Dave LaJoy, a fanatical zoophilist coiffed in dreadlocks. Dave, in league with his folk singer girlfriend, Anise and sidekick Wilson Gutierrez, will stop at nothing, risking arrest, incarceration, and even death, to confound Alma's preservation efforts. Boyle lends his considerably tragic sense of wit to this latest tale, an attribute of his writing which is usually more apparent in his short fiction and hasn't been plied successfully in his novels since 2003's Drop City.
With When the Killings Done, Boyle dives into rocky and roiling waters, exploring the sometimes gaping rifts within ostensibly similar belief systems; in this case the bio-ethics community and more specifically, the ethical treatment of animals. He unveils the volatile and contentious relationship between the wildlife conservancy crowd and the PETA crowd. Even as Alma struggles to prevent the extinction of certain indigenous species by removing the invasive predatory species, LaJoy and his cohorts plot to save the very same invasive species because after all they're animals too, they don't deserve to be disposed of like so much bad tofu. Boyle asks: Is it ethically acceptable to kill wild boars in order to protect other species on Santa Cruz island? And is it worth it to risk human lives to save these very same feral pigs? Such questions, for me, recall the ubiquitous abortion debate or the stem cell issue; are we letting our political and religious beliefs run rampant over common sense and our own species preservation?
Alma mulls this over after discovering that she is pregnant by her boyfriend and colleague, the Dickensian dubbed Tim Sickafoose. She is ever thinking in Darwinian terms:
"The only discernible purpose of life is to create more life--any biologist knows that. She's thirty-seven years old. The clock is ticking. She's a unique individual with a unique genetic blueprint, representative of a superior line, in fact--in cold fact, without prejudice--and so's Tim, with his high I.Q. and mellow personality and his long beautifully articulated limbs, and they have an obligation to pass their genes on if there's any hope of improving the species."
She takes the long view, which I suspect the author favors as well. Though, while later tagging along with professional game hunters on Santa Cruz she has a near revelatory experience over the fresh corpse of a feral pig:
"Rain stirs the dense tangle of fur, drops silently into the fixed and unseeing eyes, the delicacy of the lashes there, the canthic folds, the deep rich chocolate brown of the irises. She bends from the waist to see more clearly, ignoring the riveting of the rain. The hooves fascinate her. She's never seen a hoof up close before--it's so neatly adapted to its task, a built-in shoe shining and dark with the wet, as impervious as if it were molded of plastic. And the ears, the way the ears stand straight up, like a German shepherd's, to collect and concentrate the sounds that only come to us peripherally. The heavy shoulders, the neat arc of the haunches, the switch of the tail. This wild thing, this perfect creature."
A glimmer of divine understanding, a discovery shoveling a stabilizing heft onto her ethos, this bit of writing humanizes Alma, making the reading more worthwhile. Meanwhile her arch enemy, LaJoy is destined to have a sort of transcendental experience himself. If there is only one detractor here it is that the character of LaJoy is not more fleshed out. The reader is treated to plenty of back-story with regard to Alma and Anise, as Boyle reveals their formative roots, but LaJoy is a big question mark. Where are the seeds of motivation planted in the most deeply motivated figure of this novel?
Still this is one of Boyle's best social forays, providing his readers with an engaging, quirky story, pulling together characters we can care about, with no clear lines drawn. He lets the reader engage with the conflict and form their own conclusions. It's been said of Boyle's work that it is bereft of heroes (in fact he acknowledged this bit of commentary by entitling one of his short story collections, Without a Hero) and with When the Killing's Done, he adheres to that tenet; no heroes evident here, just veritable people.
~Book Jones~ 4.5 Stars
28 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2011
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I just finished this book after a marathon reading session, and it was spectacular. Reading TC Boyle's writing is like savoring a glass of great wine -- you don't want it to ever end. I have read everything he has written, and he never disappoints.
As always, the book's subject has been meticulously researched, then brought to life in full color with characters that are engaging and beautifully drawn. Intelligent, entertaining and thought-provoking, I can't wait for his next book!
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2011
As a long-time fan of TC Boyle, I approached "When The Killing Ends" with much anticipation. It opens with an absolutely amazing passage. Vintage Boyle, dense with description, full of activity and the believable thoughts of a grounded character.
But after that, it's downhill and fast. None of the characters are wholly believable, and several of the chapters are eye-glazingly over written. Sad to say, but there are several parts of "When The Killing Ends" that read more like a parody of TC Boyle.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is my first review ever, and I'm only one quarter of the way through the book. But I just have to say: the extreme level of detail applied to each and every scene is exhausting! Precious metaphor upon precious metaphor fill the pages. I will finish this book because I live near Santa Barbara and I know people involved with the islands, but I am already worn down. Where's the rhythm, the ebb and flow of when to go dense and when to just move the plot along? I will update this review and hopefully increase the star rating.