Book Talk: Life on a desolate island from T.C. Boyle

Thu Sep 20, 2012 8:20am EDT
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - In the latest novel by author T.C. Boyle, two families generations apart come to a starkly beautiful but isolated island off the coast of southern California, hoping to wrest new lives from the desolation.

Though husbands and children also play roles in "San Miguel," the real focus is on three women: the ailing Marantha Waters, who hopes to restore her health, her aspiring actress daughter Edith, and finally Elise Lester, a librarian from New York City, who comes with her husband and stays for a decade.

The prolific and award-winning Boyle has published nine collections of short stories and 13 novels, with subjects ranging from global warming, sexologist Alfred Kinsey and life in a writer's colony after an intruder breaks in.

Boyle spoke about "San Miguel," and how he writes.

Q: Why focus on the women?

A: "You know, all these things are very flexible. Any of my stories and novels you may have read or your readers may have read, I hope that they seem like these seamless, perfectly constructed works. But in fact, I don't have any plan, I don't have an outline. I simply move organically day to day and make discoveries about what I'm doing, which is why I love to do fiction and only fiction. In this case, though, I was privy to discover a memoir of Elise Lester and then the very truncated diary that Mrs. Waters left behind - it's only about 50 pages. That was the stimulus. I was struck by the correspondences between the two true stories. Everything I'm giving you is pretty much true to fact."

Q: What about this book was different from your others, if anything - easier, harder or more fun?

A: "This was difficult for me because it's my first novel that is not a post-modern nudging and winking wise-guy super-ironic kind of thing, which is my general mode and personality. I just wanted to see if I could do it straight, a straight historical narrative. I just found the stories so compelling.   Continued...