Descent of Man is my first book, a collection of 17 stories that was originally published by Atlantic-Little, Brown in 1979, and subsequently published in a paperback version first by McGraw Hill, and then by Penguin, which now publishes all my titles.  These stories were written over a number of years in the seventies, most of them while I was a student at the Iowa Writers' Workshop.  I published many other stories in little magazines during this period, most of which I have chosen not to collect, including my first published story, "The OD and Hepatitis Railroad or Bust" (North American Review, fall, 1972).  So: the seventeen stories in this collection are the ones I felt were the best I wrote during this period, but later, for T.C. Boyle Stories, I included two others that seemed to be popular among anthologists, "I Dated Jane Austen" and "The Hit Man,"  and another that had been published as a chapbook in Germany ("The Arctic Explorer"), while inadvertently leaving out two of the stories from Descent of Man.  The table of contents is as follows:

  • "Descent of Man"
  • "The Champ"
  • "We Are Norsemen"
  • "Heart of a Champion"
  • "Bloodfall"
  • "The Second Swimming"
  • "Dada"
  • "A Women's Restaurant"
  • "The Extinction Tales"
  • "Caye"
  • "The Big Garage"
  • "Green Hell"
  • "Earth, Moon"
  • "Quetzalcoatl Lite"
  • "De Rerum Natura"
  • "John Barleycorn Lives"
  • "Drowning" 

The book begins with two epigraphs.  The first is from Franz Kakfa's "A Report to the Academy":

"I could never have achieved what I have done had I been stubbornly set on clinging to my origins . . .   In fact, to give up being stubborn was the supreme commandment I laid upon myself; free ape as I was, I submitted myself to that yoke." 

The second is from Johnny Weismuller in Tarzan Finds A Son.  It reads:


For the excerpt here I have chosen to give the first line or two of each story.

Excerpt from Descent of Man



1.  "Descent of Man":  I was living with a woman who suddenly began to stink.

2.  "The Champ":  Angelo D. was training hard.  This challenger, Kid Gullet, would be no pushover.  In fact, the Kid hit him right where he lived: he was worried.  He'd been champ for thirty-seven years and all that time his records had stood like Mount Rushmore--and now this Kid was eating them up.  Fretful, he pushed his plate away.

3.  "We Are Norsemen":  We are Norsemen, hardy and bold.  We mount the black waves in our doughty sleek ships and go a-raiding.  We are Norsemen, tough as stone.  At least some of us are.  Myself, I'm a skald--a poet, that is.

4.  "Heart of a Champion":  We scan the cornfields and the wheatfields winking gold and goldbrown and yellowbrown in the midday sun, on up the grassy slope to the barn redder than red against the sky bluer than blue, across the smooth stretch of the barnyard with its pecking chickens, and then right on up to the screen door at the back of the house.  The door swings open, a black hole in the sun, and Timmy emerges with his corn-silk hair, corn-fed face.  He is dressed in crisp overalls, striped T-shirt, stubby blue Keds.  There'd have to be a breeze--and we're not disappointed--his clean fine cup-cut hair waves and settles as he scuffs across the barnyard and out to the edge of the field. 

5.  "Bloodfall":  It started about three-thirty, a delicate tapping at the windows, the sound of rain.  No one noticed: the stereo was turned up full and Walt was thumping his bass along with it, the TV was going, they were all stoned, passing wine and a glowing pipe, singing along with the records, playing Botticelli and Careers and Monopoly, crunching crackers. 

6.  "The Second Swimming":   Mao flicks on the radio.  Music fills the room, half notes like the feet of birds.  It is a martial tune, the prelude from "The Long March."

7.  "Dada":   We were organizing the Second International Dada Fair.  The first had been held fifty-seven years ago in Berlin.  The second, we felt, was overdue.

8.  "A Women's Restaurant":   It is a women's restaurant.  Men are not permitted.  Women go there to be in the company of other women, to sit in the tasteful rooms beneath the ancient revolving fans and the cool green of spilling plants, to cross or uncross their legs as they like, to chat, sip liquers, eat.

9.  "The Extinction Tales":  He was in his early fifties, between jobs, his wife dead ten years.

10.  "Caye":  Orlando's uncle fathered thirty-two children.

11.  "The Big Garage":  B. stands at the side of the highway, helpless, hands behind his back, the droopy greatcoat like a relic of ancient wars.

12.  "Green Hell":  There has been a collision (with birds, black flocks of them), an announcement from the pilot's cabin, a moment of abeyed hysteria, and then the downward rush.

13.  "Earth, Moon": The astronaut's house has been visited with a plague.  This is how it is: things rusting, crumbling, decomposing, the elements laying waste: smoothing corners and quashing angles, sagging the roof, licking the paint from the shingles.

14.  "Quetzlcoatl Lite":  It is near the end of my search, leads fizzled, blind alleys plumbed, and I am sunning beside a kidney-shaped pool in the courtyard of a small but decently kept hotel in San Buitre. 

15.  "De Rerum Natura":  The inventor is in his laboratory, white smock, surgical mask, running afoul of the laws of nature. 

16.  "John Barleycorn Lives":  I was just lifting the glass to my lips when she stormed through the swinging doors and slapped the drink out of my hand.  "Step back," she roared, "or suffer hellfire and eternal damnation" . . .

17.  "Drowning":  In this story, someone will drown.  Yet there will be no apparent reason for this drowning--it will not, for example be attributable to suicide, murder, divine retribution--nor even even such arcana as current and undertow.  It will instead be like so many events of the future: inexplicable, incomprehensible.  Nonetheless, it will occur.

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