Without A Hero

Posted in Uncategorized by chamblee54 on July 24, 2010

PG just finished another book of short stories by T.C.Boyle, Without a Hero . There are fifteen tales here, all of which end before the reader gets bored. The collection was published in 1994, during that magic era between communism and Islamofascism. Many are set in Southern California or New York, two places PG seldom gets to visit. Not to worry though, because the media insures familiarity with these influential regions.

The story is king in these pages. Some authors are fun to read, but their style overwhelms the story…you are always aware that you are reading Kurt Vonnegut. Mr. Boyle is like a hidden camera, recording the action without calling attention to himself. He is like a character actor, who inhabits the character without your realizing that you saw him on the late show three times last week.

One of the clues is on the copyright page. This is a collection of short stories, which means they were published before. The story of the elephant hunt gone to hell was in Rolling Stone. The teenage hitchhiker who gets thrown out by Memere Kerouac was in Playboy. (At one time, Playboy did have good stories and articles, despite the jokes. Then, the editors started to listen to the jokes, and all that was left was the pictures. GQ paid for the headliner story, “Without a Hero”. It was the fourth story in the book, the cleanup hitter. “Without” is the story of Irina, the dreamgirl visitor who quickly became a nightmare.

The book opens with a foreword or introduction, which few bother to read anyway. “Big Game” opens the show, with a tale of a hunting preserve in California. An obnoxious real estate tycoon tries to kill an elephant, and has second thoughts. PG opened to a story at random to start, and picked “Respect”, a Sicilian family tale.

A few of the tales stand out. “Beat” is the saga of a young man who hitchhikes to Long Island on the week before Christmas, and goes to see Jack Kerouac. He manages to talk his way past Memere, and gets to spend some quality time with the man. Before long, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Cassidy, and a teenage girl join the party. After a while, Memere throws the bunch out, and the story teller goes home. Before long, the teenage girl misses her period. This was Christmas 1958, when PG was four years old, living in Georgia.

“56-0” is another standout, originally paid for by Playboy. It is the tale of a man about the play his last college football game. His school has not won a game in the four years he played. The coach wants to forfeit the last game, but the player is determined to lose the last game by less than 56 points. It is a side of college sports you don’t see on TV. This is a story which was dynamite in the short story form, but probably would have been boring if it were much longer.

DDT has long been banned from use in the USA. Apparently, other parts of the world are not as squeamish. “Top of the Food Chain” tells the story too many insects in a village in Borneo. The tale is told by an man under oath, before a committee investigating a disaster. First, DDT was sprayed around the village. It killed an insect which ate caterpillars, which started to multiply. The caterpillars got hungry, and ate the palm leaves on top of the huts, which started to leak rainwater. Also, the flies got to be a problem, so another round of spraying was called for. The flies died like flies, the geckos ate the dead flies, and became dead lizards. The cats ate the dead geckos, with predictable results. Round and round she goes, where it stops no one knows.

Pictures are from the Library of Congress.

2 Responses

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  1. Ed Darrell said, on July 24, 2010 at 10:04 pm

    Is it possible the cat drop in Borneo story is not fiction? How are the credits given?


    • chamblee54 said, on July 24, 2010 at 10:37 pm

      As far as I know, the story is fiction. Whether of not it is based on fact I don’t know, but I suspect that something like that happened somewhere. The copyright is T.Coraghessan Boyle, who is a very capable wordcrafter that does not need a ghostwriter.

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