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Summary

"Greasy Lake" is a story about three college-age boys and what happens to them one night when they visit a local teen hangout, Greasy Lake. The narrator and his two friends, Jeff and Digby, have been cruising in his mother's Bel Air station wagon all night; the narrator explains that they thought they were "dangerous characters," and when they get to the lake at 2 a.m., the three are very high.

There are two vehicles in the parking lot, a motorcycle and a '57 Chevy which they mistake as belonging to a friend, Tony Lovett. The three friends, looking to embarrass their friend Tony—who they expect is having sex with a girl in the car—flash their lights and honk their horn to get his attention. But the car is not Tony's, and the three get into a tremendous fight with the owner, who seems capable of beating all three of them. The narrator is kicked in the face, loses his car keys in the grass, and finally ends the fight by hitting the man in the head with a tire iron. He appears to be dead. There is a girl in the car, and the boys, driven to a frenzy by this violence, are on the point of raping her when another car shows up and they run and hide.

The narrator, not thinking clearly, runs into the lake and hides in the undergrowth there. Up to his neck in mud and water, he finds the body of a man floating. The people in the car, friends of the man who was beaten (who it turns out was not dead), yell curses at the boys, then vandalize the Bel Air, smashing its windshield and breaking the headlights, before leaving.

In the morning, the three boys emerge from their hiding places to survey the damage. The narrator immediately finds his keys. While they are preparing to leave, another car with two girls in it shows up. The girls ask about "Al," the owner of the motorcycle that is still parked in the lot. Presumably, it was Al's body the narrator found in the lake. The boys say they don't know anything about Al and leave, even though one of the girls asks if they want to "party." Clearly, the three friends have had enough of being "dangerous characters."

Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“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 the narrator, trying to escape, is driven into the primeval swamp of Greasy Lake, only to find himself stumbling over a floating dead body. As he crouches there in the shallow water, he listens to the greasy stranger taking the tire iron to his mother’s Bel Air station wagon like an avenging demon. The story ends when the three boys start to leave and are stopped by the arrival of two young women in a silver Mustang who ask them if they want to party. By this time, however, they...

(The entire section is 1,401 words.)