T. Coraghessan Boyle

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T. Coraghessan Boyle Short Fiction Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

During a time when the majority of serious American writers have been concerned with the minutiae of everyday life, T. Coraghessan Boyle has stood out by exploring a wide range of subjects, locales, periods, and strata of society. Distinctive as a stylist, storyteller, and satirist, Boyle enthusiastically encompasses numerous literary conventions into his fiction, turning them into something fresh and often humorous. He examines both the detritus and the silliness of the world, exulting in its absurdities.

His short fiction is most notable for its extraordinary range of subjects, which include a chimpanzee who has translated Charles Darwin, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, and Noam Chomsky into Yerkish; the final performance of blues musician Robert Johnson; the importation of starlings into the United States; an attempt to improve the public image of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini; and a statue of the Virgin Mary that re-creates a man’s sins for all the world to see. Boyle’s stories delve into such topics as violence, sexuality, paranoia, guilt, and the clichés of popular culture. While some of his stories are realistic, most exaggerate the world’s absurdities for comic effect. His tone is predominantly satirical but rarely angry.

“Bloodfall”

“Bloodfall” depicts the effects of an apparently endless rainfall of blood on seven young adults who live together. Although they smoke marijuana, burn incense, and listen to thunderously loud rock and roll, they are not hippies but well-to-do materialists who use electric toothbrushes and drive BMWs. They sleep together in a bed that they appropriately think of as “the nest,” since they have attempted to withdraw from the often disconcerting realities of the outside world, seeking comfortable refuge in their home.

The inexplicable rain of blood cuts them off completely from the rest of the world by knocking out their telephone and television. They cannot drive for food since they cannot see through a blood-smeared windshield. Their response to this terrifying situation is to ignore it: “Isabelle said it would be better if we all went to bed. She expressed a hope that after a long nap things would somehow come to their senses.” The blood begins to stain everything about their antiseptic existence: their white clothing when they venture outside, their white carpet when the flood begins to seep under their door. They are confident that the bloodfall will stop, since logic demands that it will, and it does. Since such an event is illogical to begin with, however, “Bloodfall” ends with the start of a new downpour, this time consisting of “heavy, feculent, and wet” fecal matter.

Boyle often satirizes modern human beings’ feeble efforts to protect themselves from outside forces, as in “Peace of Mind,” an attack on home security systems, but the image of the blood invading the white world of these smug materialists is his strongest statement on this theme. Boyle’s vividly contrasting images of red and white and his telling accumulation of the trite details of the lives of contemporary American consumers contribute to the story’s effectiveness. As throughout his fiction, Boyle borrows from the conventions of popular culture, in this case horror fiction and films, to create a compelling vision of modern alienation.

“The Big Garage”

“The Big Garage” is an equally frightening but more comic horror story. When the Audi belonging to B. breaks down, a tow truck mysteriously appears and takes it to Tegeler’s Big Garage, an enormous service center in the middle of nowhere. Because it is late at night and no mechanics are available, B. is forced to sleep on a cot in a storage closet where other customers are also waiting for their vehicles to be repaired. B. discovers that he must go through a complicated maze to the appointment office and fill out a seven-page application for an appointment to have his car serviced. Fed up with this nonsense, B. confronts a team...

(The entire section is 3,069 words.)