TC Boyle: Stories II is an anthology of anthologies - this nearly 1000 page book contains the previously published short story collections After the Plague, Tooth and Claw, and Wild Child as well as an unpublished one, A Death in Kitchawank (hehe). I’ve already read/reviewed the first three (all great) so this review will be on the Kitchawank (hehe) collection.
First off though, some weird omissions/additions to the overall contents. The story Mexico that’s in After the Plague in its singular incarnation is excluded from this bumper book while the wry Orwellian parody Almost Shooting an Elephant is listed under the Tooth and Claw section but doesn’t appear in its separate edition. In his introduction, Boyle mentions that Mexico had appeared in his first giant collection of stories and he didn’t want to double up, which is fine, but there’s no mention of the Elephant story so who knows what happened there.
A Death in Kitchawank (hehe) is easily the worst TC Boyle short story collection I’ve read. Of its 14 stories, only a couple really stood out to me while the others were boring, uninspired and almost instantly forgettable. I liked The Way You Look Tonight, about a young married couple where the husband discovers his wife appeared in a sex tape - now being shared online - from before they were together, which felt like it had real emotional depth to it from the way Boyle wrote both husband and wife characters.
The other story I liked was The Marlbane Manchester Musser Award about a writer going to an obscure town to accept a literary award - and then getting arrested for kidnapping/child abuse! It was unexpected and exciting and had an amusing arc to it. The slob doctor in What Separates Us From the Animals was interesting in that I wondered what his story was and how he became the way he did though Boyle does nothing to develop that angle.
I remember bits and pieces from other stories that stood out - a rock star who lost his three year old daughter during a trip to the beach, a tiger crashing a wedding and killing several guests, a hiking trip that goes wrong - but, unusually for Boyle, the stories themselves had a ponderous pace to them, making the reading experience feel like wading through mud. The writing is competent but the stories for the most part feel half-formed and underdeveloped.
Stories II is worth reading for three of the four collections - a solid four stars each for After the Plague, Tooth and Claw, and Wild Child - but I’d give a woeful two stars for the tedious Kitchawank (hehe) tales. Though you might not get this impression from my review, I think TC Boyle is one of the finest short story writers working today which the majority of this collection attests to.
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I have bought a few copies of this as it makes an excellent gift for those who aren't familiar with TC Boyle. His mastery of the form is second to none, It runs to 900 pages and it so good I have read it twice! I can also highly recommend his second volume of short stories and any of his full length novels, with Water Music probably being my favourite.