Boyle: a madness that hits you
Stan Houston
Houston Chronicle 4/22/79

Lassie, faced with the dilemma of saving Timmy or mating with a mangy coyote, chooses the coyote. Idi Amin travels to America to preside over the Second National Dada Fair. Chairman Mao, the "philosopher" of the People's Movement, carves crude four-letter epithets on a toilet wall. Customers become' trapped in an enormous auto repair shop where the bureaucracy is rivaled only by the U.S. government. A collector is possessed with the thought of finding a "Lite" beer can manufactured by the Aztecs.

Impossible? Not in the fertile, perceptive, and off-center imagination of short-story writer T. Coraghessan Boyle.

Boyle's acidly funny stories have been appearing in respected magazines for several years. Descent of Man offers his first published collection of madness - madness that hits you where you live without any mercy. But you laugh anyway.

Boyle is a consummate satirist. He not only is a skilled story teller - a weaver of insane slices of life - but he also possesses the ability to strip away the layers of pretentiousness that surround our daily lives. He takes those things in life that we hold most dear; forces us to give them a thorough examination; and then dares to show us how trivial they really are. Boyle is not your run of-the-mill humorist. He is devastating.

Where else could you find the head of state (Chairman Mao) who made George Orwell's "groupthink" a reality writing "IMPERIALISM . . ." on a toilet wall. This act, according to Boyle in The Second Swimming, is perpetrated by the man who gave the world ultimate wisdom through sayings such as: "Get in the habit of not spitting on the ground at random."

Boyle has an equal distastes for the mythical view of middle-class America perpetuated by television. Heart of a Champion is Boyle's beautifully written visual drama in prose. Lassie saves Timmy, whose hair is always "fastidiously mussed," from certain death at least 10 times a day - partly because Lassie is smarter and more perceptive than most humans and partly because Timmy is an idiot. At one point, Lassie confronts a coyote who envisions Timmy as his lunch, and Timmy is dumbfounded when the two animals decide to mate instead of fight. Of course, Timmy lives in a world devoid of anything impure, such as mating.

The other stories in the collection are equally on-target. In Green Hell the narrator survives a living nightmare: a plane crash in the jungle. The passengers are forced to rely on their instincts to stay alive, but one-by-one they are brutally murdered by natives. After the narrator escapes and becomes the only one to reach civilization, the joy he experiences is not due to his act of survival but to his anticipation of financial rewards he will reap from his book (entitled Survivor, or Alive, of course), the talk show interviews, the movie rights, etc.

As one of Boyle's characters points out: "illusion masquerades as reality." In Boyle's short stories, the illusions and the dark humor help illustrate some very strong realities.