Style and Technique
Whether Boyle’s fiction is set in Africa, South America, India, or Northern California, he seems to pride himself on veracity. The details of daily Soviet life in “The Overcoat II” include Akaky’s antiquated Rostov Bear typewriter, his eating a dry sandwich of raw turnip and black bread for lunch, and the almost constant intoxication of almost everyone but Akaky. The miniature of Misha the Olympic bear on Akaky’s desk helps set the time of the story, establishes further Akaky’s nationalistic pride, and reminds the reader of the American boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The most consistent stylistic element in Boyle’s fiction is his excessive reliance on similes, which he uses to make descriptions more vivid and to establish and maintain his comic tone. Some of the similes in “The Overcoat II” are predictable: a police officer’s head is “as heavy and shaggy as a circus bear’s.” Some are distinctively Russian and ironic: Akaky’s “throat was raw and his eyelids crusted over by the time he flung himself into Petrovich’s shop like Zhivago escaped from the red partisans.” Frequently, Boyle takes what could be simply a cliché and expands it: One of Akaky’s fellow clerks has a voice “like a great whirring mill saw bogged down in a knotty log.” Others are simply colorfully comic: Akaky’s woolly black hat clings to his head “like an inflated rodent”; Studniuk’s nose has been broken so often it looks “like a question mark.” Boyle’s energetic fiction occasionally borders on the overblown and sophomoric, but the sheer vitality of his style overshadows any such defects.