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"The Boot's Tale" is from Patrick McGrath's Blood and Water and Other Tales, set during a futuristic, post-apocalyptic time—it is post-apocalyptic fiction. There has been a great war and families fortunate enough to have a fallout shelter go into hiding. The tale is surprisingly conveyed as seen from the perspective of an old boot, witnessing the behavior of the Murgatroid family.
The tale is very, very dark. The characterizations are startlingly effective, even in light of the story's abbreviated length. The author's scope of each character is so succinct that the reader quickly learns everything necessary to understand the boot's observations of human kind.
The family consists of four members: the father, Herb, is generally working with his gadgets in another room. He is not usually an assertive person. Gerty, his wife, is very large, described in an extremely unflattering way. Her favorite thing to do is to sit for hours in front of the television. Ann is a rather shy and quiet child.
"Fat Peter" is perhaps the most vivid of the four characters. He...
...was a smelly, freckled boy with dirty hair and a grimy T-shirt strained vainly to contain the jellied bulk of his tummy. A merry lad, he liked to tear the wings off houseflies and pepper the eyes of dogs...His schoolmates, whom he bullied, avoided him like the plague, for to fat Peter all of Nature was a victim to be terrorized and mutilated without mercy...
When news comes of the nuclear bombing, the family retreats to the fall-out shelter that Herb has conscientiously equipped for the family in an organized and well-planned way...except there are no provisions for four people living on top of each other—tempers flare. Fat Peter becomes the brunt of much of the family's frustration—being the youngest. Gerty (without her television) lapses into something near a vegetative state, ever in her chair. Fat Peter begins to whine about the canned food they must eat, demanding meat. At one point he is so hungry that he runs to his mother, pulls open her housedress and tries to nurse. Herb beats him away with a belt.
One day (foreshadowing!) there is noise at the entrance to the cellar. People outside are begging for food. Fat Peter and Ann curse them out, telling them:
Only enough for the Murgatroids!
A month later, Gerty dies. Herb now must decide how to do away with the body. The next day Herb finds that Gerty's finger is missing: fat Peter has stolen it and has been gnawing on it. Herb decides they will butcher the body, cook some of it and freeze the rest. The boot providing a commentary, notes:
...something galled me about the haste and ease with which the venerable taboo was violated. There was no sense of awe, no mystery, nothing of the sublime, and this I regretted. It seems to me that if you're going to eat each other, there should at least be ritual, for anthropophagy, when all is said and done, is still a rather grand and dignified sin. It matters. I'm only a boot, of course, but Herb and fat Peter went about it as if—they were working in a fast-food joint.
The family begins to eat well; they fill out and have rosy complexions again. In time they venture outside and come upon a group of starving survivors—who kill and eat them.
The point seems to be that a boot can see what is wrong with these people and their actions more easily than they can themselves. In this case, the footwear is more ethical and civilized than the human beings.
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