The bestselling author of The Tortilla Curtain and Riven Rock takes a provocative new turn with a brilliant, timely, darkly funny novel about love, activism, and the future of the planet
T. C. Boyle's range as a novelist is breathtaking; he is the kind of writer who is always setting himself new challenges, who never ceases to astonish. In A Friend of the Earth, "America's most imaginative contemporary novelist"(Newsweek) blends idealism and satire in a story that addresses the ultimate questions of human love and the survival of the species.
Friend of the Earth opens in the year 2025, as Tyrone O'Shaughnessy Tierwater ekes out a bleak living in southern California, managing a rock star's private menagerie of the species "only a mother could love"--scruffy hyenas, jackals, warthogs, and three down-at-the-mouth lions. Global warming is a reality. The biosphere has collapsed in a grim but very funny way, and most of the major mammalian species--not to mention fish, birds, and frogs--are extinct. Once, as we see in alternating chapters that flash back to the last two decades of the twentieth century, Ty was so seriously committed to environmental causes that he became an ecoterrorist and convicted felon. A "a member of the radical environmental group Earth Forever!, he unwittingly endangered both his daughter, Sierra, and his wife, Andrea. Now, when he's just trying to survive in a world torn by obdurate storms and winnowing drought, ""drea comes back into his life. What happens as the two slip into a reborn involvement makes for a gripping, topical, and ever-surprising story that is certain to stir readers' emotions.
Gritty and surreal, frightening yet touching, A Friend of the Earth represents a high-water mark in Boyle's career--his deep streak of social concern is effortlessly blended here with real compassion for his characters and the spirit of sheer exhilarating playfulness readers have come to expect of his work.
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If, as we are frequently cautioned, ecological collapse is imminent, the future might someday resemble T.C. Boyle's vision of Southern California, circa 2025: strafing wind, extortionate heat, vast species extinction, and a ramshackle, dispirited populace. A more bleak backdrop--part Blade Runner, part Silent Spring--for his eighth novel is difficult to imagine. But the ever-mischievous, ever-inventive Boyle is all too willing to disoblige; and so, in extended homage to early Vonnegut, his Sierra Club nightmare is rendered, well, comically. Toss in streaks of unabashed sentimentality, a scattershot satire, and several signature narrative ambushes, and A Friend of the Earth only further embellishes the already prodigious Boyle reputation.
During the 1980s and '90s, Ty Tierwater had exchanged a sedately acquisitive existence--"the slow-rolling glacier of my old life, my criminal life, the life I led before I became a friend of the earth"--for a fairly ambivalent position on the front lines of an ecoterrorist posse called Earth Forever! The only complication is his dual penchant for empathy and ineptitude, exacerbated by a frustration that swells with accumulating incitements. After his daughter is taken from him, and his second wife, Andrea, becomes more committed to the cause than to their marriage, Ty finds solace in blind destruction. He serves his almost predictable terms in jail; he endures the eventual death--and martyrdom--of his activist daughter, Sierra. At 75, and a quarter of the way into the dismal and decayed 21st century, he unaccountably finds himself tending an eccentric rock star's private mini-zoo of ragged animals and wryly lamenting the collapse of his race. And then Andrea resurfaces--along with his long-fallow faith in love.
Old Testament digression stalks Ty throughout A Friend of the Earth, from a publicity-stunt-cum-Edenic-retreat during his heady Earth Forever! days to a chaotic menagerie roundup amidst flooding rainfall. Boyle's future, however, is less apocalyptic than resigned, more drearily pragmatic than angst-ridden. It's a world Ty ultimately finds untenable: a constricted diversity, ecological or ideological, proves stultifying, a fact he only dimly recognized while awash in his earlier radicalism. "To be a friend of the earth," he avers in retrospect, "you have to be an enemy of the people." Boyle's spirited tale sustains the brashness of Ty's convictions. --Ben GutersonFrom the Publisher:
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