Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Relive Box and Other Stories by TC Boyle Review

TC Boyle is a fine novelist but, if you want to see this literary eagle soar, you need to read his short stories. Boyle shows why he’s one of the best short story writers in the world with his latest brilliant collection, The Relive Box and Other Stories.

The stories themselves don’t sound like much when describing them to others, particularly if you’ve never read him before, but the writing is masterful with the tone frequently striking an appealing blend of humour and drama. Boyle’s many talents include the ability to effortlessly draw the reader into nearly each tale almost instantly.

Take my favourite story here, The Designee, where an elderly widower falls for a “Nigerian Prince”-type email scam. The setup is almost too straightforward that I kept thinking that Boyle must throw in a curveball at some point to subvert it but the story plays out without any surprises. And I didn’t mind at all because the storytelling, the writing, the dialogue, and the characters are all so magnetic that it was compelling to read every foreseeable step of the way.

Theft and Other Issues was a close second fave. A guy’s car is stolen with his girlfriend’s dog in the back seat leading to tension in their relationship. As always I couldn’t tell where Boyle was going with it but it was surprisingly funny and romantic too.

Other stories that stood out included Are We Not Men?, an amusing look at Crispr’s gene-editing technology, The Argentine Ant, about a maths professor and his family dealing with an ant infestation in a town full of weirdos, and The Five-Pound Burrito which is an unexpectedly magical realist tale of a Mexican food restaurateur who comes up with the gimmick of a five pound burrito which turns his place into the hottest place to eat - only to learn that his success comes with a strange price.

I won’t recount all of the twelve stories here but suffice it to say that I enjoyed nearly all of them. What I like the most about Boyle is that he doesn’t write a certain type of story over and over – certain themes like environmental catastrophe might repeat here and there across his career but he’s got a massive range so his stories are always unpredictable.

Like almost all short story collections, this one’s not flawless and I didn’t like a couple of stories. The Relive Box is an obvious and banal commentary on how the internet has consumed our lives while The Fugitive is a tedious and lifeless tale about a guy with an illness hounded by the authorities for not wearing a mask. 

And this is a more general critique of Boyle’s style: he’s never been very good at endings. The stories tend to just stop. And it’s too abrupt, jarring and unsatisfying, particularly as they’re so enthralling. One minute you’re wrapped up in a tale, then suddenly it’s over! And this is a lesser criticism but the titles themselves are a bit unmemorable. When I looked at the contents page I couldn’t connect any of the stories with their titles.

Anyways, I mostly had a blast reading this one. I’ve loved his previous collections After The Plague and Tooth and Claw and The Relive Box didn’t disappoint. I highly recommend any of TC Boyle’s short story collections.

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