Cold Comfort

An Interview With T.C. Boyle

"Everybody expected me to satirize and make fun of that period," says Boyle, who lives outside Santa Barbara and teaches writing at the University of Southern California. "But I don't want to do the expected. I want to trick, fool, and pleasantly surprise everybody—and myself too. It's not this over-the-top Brautigan or Vonnegut or Tom Robbins kind of stuff because that's been done a million times."

What hasn't been done a million times in this particular milieu is a novel in which hippie humanity is allowed to evolve out of its context. Once the action moves to Alaska, the minor discomforts of communal life turn into life-threatening hassles when the temperature begins descending to 60 below for the winter. The world begins to close in on those ill-equipped to fend for themselves. A laughably fetid Halloween party, rank with wet clothing and crabs, unplugs the carnival entirely. Some commune members abandon it for Joe Bosky, evil ex-marine and archnemesis of Sess, and battle lines are drawn. Chaos, murderous impulses, and heavy decisions ensue as Ronnie slips over to the dark side.

The sensual physicality Boyle discovered in his cast's randy flesh will be distilled in his next novel, The Inner Circle, which is set in the 1930s and '40s. Bemoaning the weeks spent on a "perpetual book tour," he says his writing has never gone as smoothly as with this half-completed work taking on sex guru Dr. Alfred Kinsey and his cult of fuck buddies.

Boyle: "I want to trick, fool, and pleasantly surprise everybody—and myself, too."
photo: Pablo Campos
Boyle: "I want to trick, fool, and pleasantly surprise everybody—and myself, too."

Details

Drop City
By T.C. Boyle
Viking, 444 pp., $25.95
Buy this book

"I've never had so much fun with a book," Boyle says as his face takes on a look of Pan-like glee. "But it's been hell on my wife!"

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