Summary

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 389

"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.

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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

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 509

“Greasy Lake” is, on the surface at least, a teenage adventure story replete with high jinks, slapstick, and a good brawl. The good times go decidedly sour before the story is over, however, and the reader realizes that something more serious has been at issue all along.

The story is divided into three major sections. The first introduces the narrator and his two friends, just out of school for the summer, who cruise the streets of their small hometown, drinking, sniffing glue, and in general being what they consider “bad characters.”

The longer second section of the story begins when the three drive out to scum-and refuse-clotted Greasy Lake in search of “action.” A “chopper” (motorcycle) is parked on one side of the lot next to the lake, no owner in sight. A 1957 Chevy with the inevitable teenage lovers inside is parked on the other. The three friends mistake the car for that of an acquaintance; the narrator pulls his car behind the Chevy and, for a joke, flashes his headlights and honks the horn. Unfortunately, the owner of the car (Bobby) is not their friend after all. A fight ensues. The narrator and his friends are routed, comically so, by Bobby, who is in truth the “bad character” they believe themselves to be.

The relatively harmless fun now begins to sour. The narrator, humiliated by a kick to the mouth, hits Bobby over the head with a tire iron, perhaps hurting him seriously. Bobby’s girl emerges screaming from the car, half-clothed, and the three, impassioned and heedless from the recent violence, attempt to rape her. They are stopped not by their consciences but by the headlights of an approaching car. This fresh carload of “bad characters” rescues the girl and chases narrator and friends into the brush surrounding the lake. Dodging rocks hurled into the darkness, the narrator dives into the lake and bumps into a true horror—a floating corpse. The second section ends as the narrator staggers out of the water and hears Bobby (recovered) and his friends battering the narrator’s car.

The third section begins as dawn allows the narrator, Digby, and Jeff to survey the damage. It is some consolation, though not much, that the tires were not slashed and the car can still be driven. As they are about to leave, another car pulls into the lot. In it are two young women in their mid-twenties. One approaches and asks if the boys have seen Al, the owner of the chopper across the lake. Al, the narrator realizes, is the corpse he splashed into in the lake, but he denies having seen anyone. The woman takes a good look at the three of them—cut, bruised, and filthy—and says, “Hey, you guys look like some pretty bad characters.” The three would have considered this high praise at the beginning of the story, but now they are too stunned by events to react. They decline when she offers them drugs, and the story ends as they drive away from the lake.

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