Thursday, May 18, 2023

"Blue Skies" by T.C.Boyle

I don't like T.C. Boyle's new book enough to write a complete review. I was really looking forward to reading Blue Skies, but I'm pretty disappointed. At first the book seems to be a satire (maybe a bit like the books of Carl Hiaasen, but not as funny), but that mood dies out quickly as the plot thickens. 

A few observations:

  • The book deals with Big Issues. But it's too predictable: the main theme is about global warming and species extinction. Exaggerated floods in Florida, drought in California, and nothing but helplessness. Not really insightful. Not one of the characters seems perceptive about the whole thing. They try but I'm not convinced.
  • Snakes again. There were snakes in the last T.C.Boyle book that I read. What's with the snakes? See "When the Killing's Done" by T.C.Boyle. And at the end there's a parallel event to another of his books but I won't say more than that because no spoilers!
  • Characters are mostly flat. They seem to be half-baked versions of the ones in previous novels by this author. Central characters: an airheaded self-centered couple without much to make them sympathetic or believable. Secondary characters: better human beings that never quite became three-dimensional. 
  • Social media is another rather forced characteristic of some of their lives. This element doesn't have the pithy irony or the social relevance that I have seen in a number of other authors' books.
  • Plot: melodramatic. The things that will happen to the characters are too obvious from the start. Boyle is not Shakespeare; the fact that you know what's coming isn't a dramatic accomplishment.
Check out this example of the author's tired prose style:

"Half the world was flooded and the other half parched and the crops kept failing and failing again. People were starving, even here in California. There were refugees everywhere. The wine tasted of ash. (Blue Skies, p. 290).

Boyle always seems to have a character who is a committed, fanatical vegetarian, usually with the same thoughts as all the other vegetarians. A little tedious:

"She ordered a breakfast burrito—with ham, though she knew he disapproved or maybe she’d forgotten or didn’t care because what he thought or felt or declaimed to the world meant nothing to her under the present circumstances—and he had the same thing, only without meat, because meat was murder, for starters, and it was the carnivores who’d destroyed the earth, fueling the Auschwitz of the slaughterhouse and lining up at In-N-Out Burger with their motors idling for as long as it took for the animal matter to sizzle on the grill and the air to turn to poison. She saw the look on his face and said, 'I like ham once in a while, so shoot me.'” (p. 317). 

Around a dozen times the characters prepare and eat eggs for breakfast, usually with a muffin. Somehow this seems very repetitive! --

"Normally she’d fix herself eggs and a medley of fresh fruit—papaya, kiwi, honeydew, blueberries or raspberries or whatever looked good in the market that week—but she thought maybe she’d go for a muffin, blueberry, with a sprinkle of sugar, just to settle her stomach, and skip the coffee." (p. 22).  

In a rather tepid review, the New York Times' writer Matt Bell summarizes the food part of the novel: "Boyle has always been a foodie writer, and much of “Blue Skies” unfolds at what increasingly feel like last suppers for the bourgeoisie." (NYT Review Here

I'll spare you a number of other cooking scenes, take-out ordering scenes, fast food, and fine restaurant scenes that I found less than imaginative. In fact, I'll spare you any more of this. If you are a die-hard fan of the author, I'd like to hear what you think.

Review © 2023 mae sander.


Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

I picked up a copy of this at the Texas Library Association Conference last month.

Off it goes into my Little Free Library!

Jeanie said...

An honest review! I think I'll give it a pass!

JoAnn said...

What a disappointment! I've enjoyed a few of Boyle's books and many of his short stories, but will likely give this a pass.

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

I had to laugh at the paragraph about the breakfast burrito. I thought I could write a long sentience, BUT I use commas (or place the thought inside parentheses), not the long dash. Sounds like I wouldn't care for this.

anno said...

I always want to enjoy Boyle's work more than I ever do, so I appreciate your honest review here. His Road to Wellville, though, still stands out as one of my all-time favorites, and a good reason to pause & thumb through the pages of whatever new work of his I find on the shelves.

Helen's Book Blog said...

What a bummer! Tom lives around the corner from me so it's fun to read his books and observe him as he walks his dog. My favorites were Tortialla Curtain, World's End, and Riven Rock (short stories).

DVArtist said...

You always give the best reviews. Thank you and have a great day.

eileeninmd said...

Thanks for your honest review! Take care, have a happy weekend.

Tina said...

The tortilla quote was more preaching than I like in novels. I appreciate reading about current issues embedded in fiction, but that Faulkner-like run on diatribe was over the top!

Vicki said...

Sorry it wasn't a good one for you, I think I'll pass.

Mark Baker said...

I'm sorry the book disappointed you so much.

Jinjer-The Intrepid Angeleno said...

Ugh I hate when a book is so disappointing! Hope the next one you pick up is a winner!

thecuecard said...

TC Boyle used to be good stuff. But I have read only one of his short story collection and The Tortilla Curtain which impressed me. I have not been enticed to pick up his newer titles ... and probably your review is why!