(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 entire section is 503 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“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...

(The entire section is 509 words.)