Review: T. C. Boyle’s latest short stories are hit-and-miss

Sep 12, 2022, 8:35 AM | Updated: 8:58 am

“I Walk Between the Raindrops” by T.C. Boyle (Ecco)

An alcoholic author gets a strange visit that dredges up old memories. A couple becomes trapped on a cruise ship at the very start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two people quietly believe they’re taking advantage of one another in a bet for a French apartment.

Each of the stories in T. C. Boyle’s latest collection “I Walk Between the Raindrops” gloms onto an idea and follows it, taking readers down a rabbit hole before plopping them back down almost in the same spot they started.

Boyle is well published with over two dozen books under his belt. It shows in the steady voice prominent throughout his collection, whether the protagonist is a teen or an old man or a middle-aged woman. Though the variability doesn’t go much further than that.

Ten out of 13 short stories in “I Walk Between the Raindrops” feature a straight, presumably white, male character, many of whom are self-righteous, racist, misogynistic, or some combination of those three. The other three narratives still include such characters, they just don’t weigh in as heavily as, say, a straight white woman.

Sometimes, these annoyingly recurring traits become the crux of the story, and Boyle invites the reader to inspect or even laugh at them. Other times, they’re the default mode and nothing more.

The ideas lack originality, with two of the stories paralleling “Black Mirror.” “Asleep at the Wheel” is a not-so-distant-future story about AI gone too far that would fit snugly into the lexicon of the popular streaming series. And, like the episode “Nosedive,” the short story “SCS 750” centers around a socioeconomic rating system that rules characters’ lives, except Boyle’s version has a totalitarian government edge to it.

Rather than creative story concepts or exploring non-normative people, what Boyle shines in is appreciating a character through and through — the voice, psychology, and mannerisms that make each one unique despite heavy overlaps in their demographic Venn Diagram.

Considering it’s the collection’s namesake, “I Walk Between the Raindrops” falls flat, serving as a poor introduction. But Boyle’s conversational style and tidbits of wry humor grew on me with each tale. He freshens stale plots and trope-riddled characters by dropping a delightful assortment of knowledge into each vignette.

Among the best of the book’s fictions is the endearing final story “Dog Lab,” about a medical student struggling with the morality of operating on his canine patient. In it, Boyle showcases his capability with an engaging plot, engrossing details and rich characterizations.

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Review: T. C. Boyle’s latest short stories are hit-and-miss