Sunday, April 3, 2011

T.C. Boyle's Book Tour Review


Seattle Public Library
University Books Sponsor

The short version: A reading of a short story that turned into a long evening

The main branch of the Downtown public library. It stands as a monument to the city of Seattle’s voracious appetite for books. University Books is there so things run smooth. In comes short story master T.C. Boyle to promote his newest novel "When the Killing's Done "and this should be a fine evening. Sort of.

The reading stage is a vertical wall of chairs; high enough to remind one of Mount Rainer. The chairs were designed by an architect who thought only people five foot four and weighing a 120 pounds would be sitting inside them. The audience packs in with rain soaked winter coats, and umbrellas shoved in cramp leg spaces that it looks like a grade school coat closet, ten minutes after recess.

The reading is supposed to start at 7pm. Five minutes before hand Mr. Boyle is visible off to the side. He stands in the wings early while the ushers clear people sitting on the stairs in search of more leg room.

Then T.C. Boyle disappears. The audience is left waiting while the evening hostess from the Library, (an obnoxious woman we find out later) comes on and announces that we start late because TC would like to tour the library. What a blatant admission. The crowd groans as parking cost more than Mr. Boyle’s new book. This is the kind of thing you usually do before you’re supposed to take the stage. It’s a packed house for God’s sake and it would have been more acceptable had she announced the author was across the street and trade shots of Wild Turkey with Tom Sizemore and Randy Quaid.

Anyway, TC Boyle is a brilliant short story artist. He comes, complete with Kenny Logan’s style hair cut (Top Gun Kenny Logins, not the Caddy Shack years) yellow jacket and orange shoes. The look works for a middle age man. He greets the crowd with love and they show it in return.

The Reading

Actually T.C. Boyle reads great, the selection from his new novel, however, lays an egg. He tries to explain the plot and discusses the books plot about a man and a woman and conflict and ecology and there are feral animals like sheep and pigs and eagles and the whole damn thing is lost by the time he is done.

He reads a selection of the novel. The crowd is shifting uncomfortably in their narrow chairs with wet coats soaking their laps. Then something so routine occurs that it actually spices up things.

An overhead announcement stating that the library will be closing in twenty minutes.

It is not a big deal but for a moment annoying. The announcement is not as annoying as Mr. Boyle’s dramatic reaction as he stops the reading and asking the hostess if overhead announcements can cease while he is reading. Then the hostess jumps up out of the audience and takes over the microphone and goes on a long obnoxious explination about how these are automated messages timed to come on and there is nothing she can do to stop them.

Again not a big deal to most but Mr. Boyle’s face resembled a man who won a chili eating contest only to find out they ran out of toilet paper.

As he finishes with the reading from his new book the room’s energy is flat. At this point the reading is lost. Wrap it up, and go to your signing desk. The overhead announcements and his reaction have sucked the air out.


This is the difference between a first time romance novelist and an experienced pro: he keeps going. This was a thing of beauty to watch as T.C. Boyle recovers the evening. He selects out a short story for reading tonight called “The Lie.”

Where was this energy before? It was theatrical and practiced and he barely looked down as if there was a teleprompter in the audience. He was changing speed, hitting accents at the back of polysyllabic words, pausing for comedy bits to sink in but not long enough to drag the reading.

The Liar was a good story. T.C. Boyle’s reading made it a great story.

Then to top it off Mr. Boyle was open to questions from the audience and handled it with grace and class.

Highlights of the questions:

-He would never work on a script because he hates to collaborate on anything so why would he work on a script.

-He actually liked the movie Road to Wellville (an adaption of his novel) even though it was panned by critics and different from his book. He had a lot of nice things to say about the director and crew.

-He handled what may be the STUPIDEST QUESTION of the year so far with tremendous savvy. “Mr. Boyle. Do you know if you have EVER won a Pulitzer Prize?” As if they keep that a secret. If a surly author like Andrew Vachss had been asked that question, people would have been dialing 911 and ducking for cover.

No comments:

Post a Comment