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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

World's End (1987) by T.C. Boyle

Book Review
World's End (1987)
 by T.C. Boyle

  T.C, Boyle is incredibly prolific for a "serious" novelist.  Since the first edition of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die was published in 2006, Boyle has published five stand alone novels, each of which has remained in print in an evergreen paperback edition.  The editorial language in the listing for this book in 1001 Books calls it Boyle's masterpiece, but without having read any of his other books (Road to Wellsville, anyone?) it seems like there is at least a chance that one of his subsequent novel deserves to replace World's End, which, in my mind, has aged badly, even since the 2006 publication date of the first 1001 Books.

 Set among several generations of the population of the Hudson River Valley in three different time periods:  The late 17th century, the period surrounding the second World War and the "high 1960's."  With the exception of the portion set in the 17th century, Boyle is walking in a well trodden meadow.  One book it recalls in particular is The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow, published in 1971, which also uses The Peetskill Riots as a major plot point.  Those riots were nativist/anti-communist protests of a Peace Concert in the Hudson River Valley by Paul Roebeson.  Like a Woodstock, that was very much ahead of it's time.

  And while there is nothing wrong with two works of 20th century American Fiction that focus on the Peetskill Riots as being emblematic of the American experience in the 1940's, I thought that Boyle's use of Native American characters bordered on the insulting.  There are some subjects where a wry meta-fictional touch isn't appropriate, and personally, I don't see the Native American soft genocide as a topic for a comic novel.  It is different for a writer who is actually Native America- Sherman Alexie, for example, an excellent Native American author who is very funny and not represented on the 1001 Books list.

  It is easy to defend Boyle by saying that he treats his Native American (or part Native American) characters with the same sense of wry detachment that he uses for all his characters, but its hard to imagine him treating enslaved African American characters- who do appear in cameo roles in World's End, with the same attitude.   As it stands, World's End is the first novel that really even discusses the Native American experience in North America- surely a rich vein of literature. A Sherman Alexie book at the least.  Since World's End is Boyle's only core title, it would mean dropping him entirely.  Maybe that isn't fair to Boyle, because World's End is only partially about Native American subjects.

  And, if you are going to start directly comparing books at this point in time- 1987, it's easy for me to say that, a book like Beloved would be one of maybe two or three books to remain on the list, were space needed for new titles.   Whats interesting about the core list is that you've got 700 titles, but those 700 all remained through 2010 and 2012, while the 300 books that were added to the list in 2008 were, I think, replaced entirely in 2012.   In other words, none of the 300 replacement books in 2008 remained after the 2012 revision.   You might also drop The Book of Daniel, since Doctorow has multiple titles on the core list. 

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