Posted by: Jeanie F | March 5, 2011

Wild Child by TC Boyle

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of short stories. I signed up for an online fiction writing class at Gotham Writers’ Workshop  and decided to immerse myself in this format. Those of you who follow this blog already know I’m a lover of short stories – it probably has to do with my inability to stick to a project for any sustained amount of time. But I also really admire the ability of someone to take a large concept and distill it to its most critical elements. As a child, I loved miniatures – miniature horses, dogs, doll house furniture, those tiny wrapped candy bars that Hershey’s makes. . . It fascinates me when something so small can be so lifelike. I love Twitter – and Six Word Memoirs  – and Post Secret, where people manage to communicate so much, so succinctly. For me, less is often more.

An author who tops my list in his ability to give us a whole world in a few pages is TC Boyle. Every word he puts on paper means something, every image carries more than the sum of its parts. He has numerous short story collections in addition to his novels, the newest collection being Wild Child. This new volume is grounded by the novella-length “Wild Child,” based on the true story of the feral child, Victor of Aveyron. I’ll review this story in a separate post.

The rest of this collection covers a wide range of topics and locations, from Hollywood, California to Caracas, Venezuela. His last story collection, Tooth and Claw, focused closely on the intersection between the natural world and modern society. If there is a unifying theme is Wild Child, I would say that it is an examination of those dark and wild places that reside in each of us. No matter our station in life, Boyle’s scenarios show that the right set of circumstances can push any of us over the edge.

Each story stands on its own merits some, obviously, more successfully than others. The critical reviews on this collection have been mixed but, as far as I’m concerned, Boyle at his worst is better than many short story writers at their best.

A few highlights from this collection:

  • “La Conchita,” in which a messenger, charged with delivering a liver to a hospital in time for a transplant, is delayed by a mudslide. Worth reading if only for the in-your-face description of the reality of being in a mudslide, which doesn’t generate the fear of, say, earthquakes or hurricanes. Our narrator tells us, “Maybe it was the fault of the term itself – mudslide. It sounded innocuous, almost cozy . . . as I now know, is nothing short of an avalanche, but instead of snow you’ve got 400,000 tons of liquefied dirt bristling with rock and tree trunks coming at you with the force of a tsunami.”
  • “Sin Dolor,” the story of a child born with a genetic malfunction rendering him unable to feel pain. While the story takes place in Mexico, it could easily be in India or other third world countries where poverty determines the fate of nature’s anomalies. A touching and, ultimately, heartbreaking story.
  • “The Unlucky Mother of Aquiles Maldonado,” where a Venezuelan baseball hero’s success causes his mother to be kidnapped by a down-and-out band of banditos. Marita Villalba, the mother, is a heroine you will love.

Each and every one of the stories here is an enjoyable read. Some are humorous, some exciting, some touching, but all expose us to a bit of the “wild child” that lives in us all.

Grade: B+


  1. Thanks for this review. I’ve been wanting to read this (actually, to OWN this) for a while now but haven’t really seen it reviewed. I’m a Boyle fan although I’m not so keen on short stories. But I still want this book!

    It sounds like I’m going to like it. Looking forward to your review of Wild Child the story.

  2. I’ll try to get it posted this week, but it’s tax season here in the US, so I’m frantically trying to find all my receipts!

    BTW, Judith, I’m going to be featured on Scene of the Blog on March 16. I had to clean up my office to try to make it as presentable as your pictures were!

    • It’s tax season here too but I keep forgetting. Better get it done soon!

      Oh, I love to see you on Scene of the Blog. I’ll remember your pictures aren’t “authentic” then, if you cleaned up. 🙂

      • Believe me, I’d never go public with “the real thing”!

  3. Thanks for introducing me to 6-Word Memoirs. That is something I can really get into. I bookmarked it and am thinking of one to publish.

    • I’d love to read it when you have it written! Please send me the link, or the memoir. Rumor has it that the idea rose from a challenge put to Ernest Hemmingway – could he write a complete story in six words? His response: For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn. One of the saddest stories I’ve ever read!

  4. I must surely try TC Boyle after reading this. Thank you for the review!
    Also, I invite you to come over to know about us at BookRack and consider joining us 🙂

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