After the Plague (T.C. Boyle)

After the Plague is a short story collection by T.C. Boyle.
Finished on: 11.12.2015

After the Plague is a nice collection of short stories. Boyle certainly knows how to string words together to make them sound amazing. But about halfway through (if not earlier) I started to grow a little tired of the invariably masculine point of view. Even when Boyle writes from a woman’s perspective (which is rare enough), it’s somehow still obsessed with men/masculinity. While I do find that an interesting topic, a little more variation would have been nice.

After the jump I’ll talk about each short story separately.


Termination Dust
Women are flown into a small town in Alaska to get auctioned off for dates. In a town with 170 people, 32 of which are women, there is bound to be some rivalry.
For me it was pretty clear where things were headed in the story (though I can imagine that it would take guys longer for the penny to drop), but that doesn’t make it bad. It certainly was the first proof in the collection that Boyle really knows how to write.

She Wasn’t So Soft
Paula is a triathlete who is dating laid-back surfer-type Jason. When her biggest competition yet is coming up, tension between the two keeps rising.
The second story in the collection was also the second story to deal with violence against women and both times from a male perspective. It wasn’t a perspective that condones the violence, but still it set a trend that made me quite nervous. Especially since the story started out from her point of view and then switched and never returned.

Killing Babies
Rick just got released from jail. To get a fresh start he flies across the country to move in with his brother Philipp, a doctor, and his family. Rick gets to work in Philipp’s clinic which is under constant siege by pro-life activists.
Astory that deals with a topic that concerns women much more than it concerns men and yet it os again told from the male perspective. It wasn’t badly done, but it should have been about male sense of entitlement to female bodies and Boyle doesn’t seem to quite get that (or else it’s an extremely cynical take on how even when men try to defend women’s right to choose, it ends up with them claiming their bodies which would have been a way darker turn than I’d appreciate).

Captured by the Indians
Melanie and Sean have been dating for a while but after a lecture of bioethics after which Sean seemed quite enthusiastic about the eugenic world-view espoused in it, Melanie is reluctant to tell him that she’s pregnant.
We’re four for four now with stories where some kind of violence is perpetrated against women. Whereas the other stories had some redeeming feature, my only reaction about this story is an incoherent “WHAT IS THIS SHIT ANYWAY???” Apart from the fact that a woman has to die, there’s a homeless man turns out to be a psychopath and added to the story are excerpts from a wildly racist (fake?) book of historical accounts of Native American cruelty (accuracy should be questioned). And it all ends nowhere at all.

Achates McNeil
Achates is the son of a famous novelist, a fact he rather wouldn’t share with his college colleagues, even in his lit class. There is only one person who finds out – Victoria.
This story I mostly just found boring. Daddy issues, yadda yadda. I freely admit that I have a hard time empathizing with rich white boys who don’t get along with their daddies.

Lester is on holidays in Mexico where he meets the beautiful Gina. But things don’t really work out as planned.
At this point I was increasingly growing frustrated with these stories, I have to admit. They all feel the same and like the have nothing to with me. This one in particular.

The Love of My Life
China and Jeremy are high school sweethearts and seem the perfect couple. Until their entire lives get disrupted.
This story, thankfully, I liked again a whole lot. China and Jeremy are an incredibly cute couple – until they aren’t anymore. In any case, I was totally with them throughout the story, even though there are a couple of rough transitions and jumps in it where I just didn’t know anymore what was happening at the moment.

Walt and Eunice are old, and the life for an old couple can be surprisingly dangerous.
Rust is a depressing story that I found almost insulting in its bleakness. Mostly because it’s not unrealistic, which makes it even worse. Also, Boyle apparently only writes about alcoholics, that’s becoming quite clear in this collection.

Peep Hall
Hart likes his privacy. But when he meets his new neighbor Samantha who lives down the road in a house that is built as an online peep show sorority house, he starts watching her and her house mates with relish.
This story is a male fantasy through and through. It’s basically the set-up for a porno and about as realistic especially when it comes to the female characters. For me it was boring as fuck, but at least you can read through it pretty quickly.

Going Down
John is home alone in a building storm, waiting for his wife to return. He grabs a book from his son’s bookshelf and becomes completely engrossed in that fictional world.
Boyle shows us not only what is happening to John, but also gives us excerpts from the book he’s reading – and that book within the story, about a world where people first age normally, then backwards, to be finally reborn, I found entirely fascinating. I can understand that John fell into it so completely. The only problem was that I didn’t care for the actual story anymore at all.

Friendly Skies
Ellen is trying to fly out of Los Angeles, but after a technical failure, her plane has to turn back, giving her ample opportunity to watch one of her co-passengers who is making an ass of himself.
I think this story was meant to be funny, but I just didn’t see the humor. While I was still puzzling about that, it was over and I was none the wiser.

The Black and White Sisters
Larry is a gardener working for two eccentric sisters who want everything black and white – even their garden.
This story has a cool concept and I really enjoyed reading it, but I could have done without the sinister ending or the murderous past. It is certainly a story that would make a great short film – I would love to see that.

Death of the Cool
Edison is trying to relax after surgery, but instead he has a run-in with some kids and things turn bad.
I so did not care for this story. I can’t care anymore for all these men who drink too much and have manpain and this story pushed all my hate buttons in that regard.

My Widow
A dead husband talks about the daily life of his still living, but increasingly frail widow who is showing signs of dementia.
Boyle writing about old people certainly isn’t very nice. At least the widow is able to weather what he throws at her. The language is particularly nice in this one and I liked the perspective even though it was slightly weird (and yet again a man telling a story about a woman).

The Underground Gardens
Baldasare bought a plot of land out west in California. When he finally arrives there, he realizes that it is a shitty bit of land, but he decides to work hard, determined to make it anyway.
I really liked the story, probably because I thought Baldasare was just a cutie pie. It’s a pity that love didn’t work out for him as he had planned, but I for one would love to see what he builds. Or rather, digs.

After the Plague
After a new virus wiped out most of the earth’s human population, the remaining survivors try to build a life for themselves.
The apocalypse happened and this story is till all about how mouthy women will fuck everything up. I couldn’t care less for this kind of crap, or who the protagonist sleeps with. Makes the collection sizzle out rather than give it a grand finale.

Summarizing: Even though not all stories are to my liking (when are they ever?), the collection is worth checking out.


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