July 29, 2006

Drive talk.

Driving across the continent this week, I listened to the satellite radio for hours and hours. Around Madison, I stay with the music channels most of the time, but on this long trip, I needed the talk channels to keep me going. And there's only so much news I can take, and I gravitated to non-news talk shows. My heart always lifted when "This American Life" came on, as it does more than once a day on the XM Public Radio channel. I also got through long stretches of highway listening to interviews with artists. On one of the comedy channels, there was a long, absorbing session with Carlos Mencia, who's really smart as well as funny. Then there was a great hour with a musician whose name I can't recall, one of The Pacers -- not Sonny Burgess. He had memories of Sun Studio in the golden days and so much heart, so much love for rockabilly music. (Don't you love rockabilly music?) And then there was a Public Radio interview that I stumbled into the end of and then heard on repeat from the beginning.

It was T.C. Boyle, whose crushingly depressive quote bugged me the other day. Some blogger criticized that post for making everything political, even though all that bothered me was the repulsive pessimism, and it occurred to me later that the blogger who criticized me -- he's linked in the linked post -- was not only ridiculously hypocritical -- he was the one seeing politics everywhere -- but he had also made an embarrassing concession about the political vision of the left: It feels like depression.

Anyway, on the radio, T.C. Boyle didn't seem like a depressing guy at all. He seemed perfectly energized, bubbling with ideas. In fact, he reminded me of blogging. He said he got his ideas from reading the newspaper, finding some little thing that touched off his thinking and taking it from there.

What reminded me that I wanted to say I really like Boyle is seeing this NYT review of "Talk Talk," the book I heard him talking about on the radio.
These jubilant portrayals of the loathsome and the lunkheaded have earned Boyle a reputation as a satirist, but the truth is more complicated. His outsize attack may at first glance appear surreal and excessive. In fact, this is 21st-century naturalism. Boyle depicts his whirling, pestilential world like an amused, not unaffectionate Hieronymus Bosch, graphically detailing the 31 flavors of greed.

He doesn’t remake the thriller in “Talk Talk” — that’s a tall and probably superfluous order. But without being too explicit, let’s say that he does engineer an ending unusual for a genre in which writers tend to administer justice like Antonin Scalia, displaying little sympathy for the criminal element. More than 20 years ago, in the story “Greasy Lake,” Boyle wrote, “There was a time when courtesy and winning ways went out of style, when it was good to be bad, when you cultivated decadence like a taste.” With T. C. Boyle, thankfully, such times have never gone out of fashion. No one writes better about the wages of American sin. Or, if not wages exactly, sin purchased on credit, and that probably stolen.
Hey, wait a second! How did Scalia get into the review?! And talk about seeing politics everywhere!

ADDED: You can buy a download of the interview with Boyle here.

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