Thursday, September 30, 2004

T.C. Boyle And The Art Of Surviving Critical Reviews

Aye, carumba -- I am spending a heap of time on this site! In fact, Identity Theory will now be added to my list of Intoxicants, thanks chiefly to Robert Birnbaum's rambling and, yes, intoxicating interviews.

I was re-introduced to IT via this interview with author T.C. Boyle. Boyle's latest novel, The Inner Circle, seems to be receiving the standard-issue T.C.-Boyle-Novel-Review-Template -- to wit: "Boyle is unquestionably a virtuoso of the short story, but this novel left me feeling a little cold..." There are some exceptions -- Drop City and The Tortilla Curtain somehow managed to dodge that critical enfilade -- but to be honest, I'm not at all confident that I could review his novels any more sympathetically. The only Boyle novel on my shelf is The Road To Wellville, which I purchased because of the nifty "cereal box" packaging of the original paperback release. I think I read the first half of the novel, before losing interest.

I wonder what sort of toll reviews like that take on an author. Boyle has his devoted followers, and is by now that rarity among contemporary fiction writers, a wealthy public figure, so he's clearly got whatever it takes to not give a damn. But still -- the critics never vary. Wouldn't this prompt a guy like him to think, Well, these novels do take a lot of my time and energy. The short stories are an obvious cash cow, with Esquire and The New Yorker sending me cheques, alongside Viking every time I publish a collection. Besides, Alice Munroe and Mavis Gallant don't bother with the novel. Why should I?

Birnbaum's interview gives us some insight into how Boyle thinks and works. And perhaps it's to everyone's advantage that he keeps writing at such a furious pace. In the meantime, I've picked up a copy of After The Plague, and can attest with the unwashed critical masses that Boyle is indeed a virtuoso of the short story.

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