(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

T. C. Boyle’s eighth novel, A Friend of the Earth, presents its story of environmental warning in chapters alternating between the late twentieth century and the 2020’s. The prologue introduces Tyrone (“Ty”) Tierwater in 2025 as a seventy-five-year-old caretaker on aging rock star Maclovio Pulchris’s isolated estate in the mountains above Santa Barbara. Ty and Mac share a passion for preserving the few animal species remaining in a world devastated by global warming. Mac is especially interested in saving the ugly animals that no one else wants, so the compound hosts hyenas, warthogs, three mangy lions, and other odd animals, all named after flowers, including a Patagonian fox named Petunia. Ty mucks through drenching, wind-whipped rains, attending to the animals with the help of Chuy, a Central American refugee. Ty’s existence is as bleak as the sodden landscape, but he appreciates the security of a steady job and income in a world where Social Security has gone bankrupt and he—who has spent time in prison on various felony charges—has few options. A surprise call from his former wife, Andrea, wrenches Ty out of his predictable existence and forces him to reminisce about his late daughter, Sierra.

The novel moves fluidly between the early days of Ty and Andrea’s marriage and their current adventures. Ty, a widowed single father and heir to his father’s failing shopping center, meets the buxom and flamboyant Andrea at a party hosted by Earth Forever!, a radical environmental action group. Ty soon leaves his home and business on the East Coast to follow Andrea to California. There they become well-known members of Earth Forever!, working along with Teo Van Sparks, whom Ty suspects of having had a sexual relationship with Andrea. As their first radical protest against logging in Oregon, Ty, Andrea, Teo, and—against Ty’s better judgment—Ty’s young teenage daughter Sierra dig a trench across a logging road in the middle of the night, fill the trench with cement, and plant their feet in the cement, expecting to generate massive publicity for the environmental cause. Instead they are ignored by the media, scorned by the loggers, and harassed and arrested by law enforcement. Ty is charged with child endangerment, and Sierra is taken by the authorities and placed in a foster home, where Ty is not allowed even to communicate with her. Desperate to see his daughter, Ty convinces Andrea to look for the home where Sierra is being held. When Sierra sees her father, she runs to him and the three of them take off, becoming fugitives.

Sheltered by EF! sympathizer Philip Ratchiss, the trio live in an isolated cabin in California under assumed names. Their peaceful life bores Andrea, who misses the spotlight of her political activity, and Sierra, who misses her wild teenage friends. Ty is unable to control his anger at the corporate loggers, and sneaks out one night and vandalizes the machinery at a nearby site, then sets fire to thirty-five thousand acres of trees that had been planted in the place of old-growth trees that were logged. Andrea finally convinces Ty to give himself up so that they can eventually resume a normal life. First, however, Ty and Andrea stage a stunning protest, setting off to live for a month in the forest, naked and without any supplies, shadowed by a journalist who will document that they are truly dependent on nature and their wits. Their initially romantic-sounding trek back to the Garden of Eden quickly becomes a grueling test, but they persist and become heroes of the movement. Ty then surrenders to the authorities and serves a year in prison, while Sierra and Andrea return to the suburbs.

Out on parole, Ty is prevented from openly associating with the movement. Bored and craving the excitement of his monkeywrenching days, he furtively travels to Oregon and vandalizes the cars of the judge who convicted him and of the police department, escaping back home without being detected. He lives quietly for the next two years, but just a few weeks shy of the end of his parole, Ty sneaks out one night to disable trucks parked at a construction site where power lines are being brought into a new development in the San Fernando Valley. Not satisfied with this act, Ty attempts a far riskier action, cutting through the steel towers supporting the lines, although he realizes that the massive torch he has to use can easily be seen. He quickly is caught and sent off to jail again, this time for four years of...

(The entire section is 1821 words.)