“Greasy Lake,” the title story of Boyle’s best-received collection of stories, takes its title and its epigraph—“It’s about a mile down on the dark side of Route 88”—from Bruce Springsteen’s song “Spirit in the Night.” The story focuses on three nineteen-year-old men living in a time (probably the 1960’s) when, the narrator says, it was good to be bad, when young people cultivated decadence like a taste. Driving the narrator’s family station wagon, they search for some escape from their suburban shopping-center lives at Greasy Lake, where, on the banks of festering murk, they can drink beer, smoke marijuana, listen to rock and roll, and howl at the moon.
On the particular occasion of this story, however, at 2:00 a.m., these extremely “bad” characters meet someone more “dangerous” than they are. When they try to embarrass a friend in a parked car, they find out too late that it is instead a “bad, greasy” stranger, who begins beating them up. Things go from bad to worse when the narrator loses the key to the station wagon and cracks the greasy stranger on the head with a tire iron. When the three, caught up in the violence, begin tearing the clothes off the girl in the car, they are interrupted by the arrival of another man, who threatens to kill them.
All this intense physical action is described in a combination of fear-filled seriousness and silly slapstick—that is, until...
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