T.C. Boyle and I have had some good times and some bad times over the years. My last encounter with him the disappointing Riven Rock was enough to sour me on him for quite some time. The short stories in Without Hero, though, has gone a long way toward repairing the relationship.
Like most readers of most short story volumes, I suspect, I found favorites and duds in the collection. “56-0” is a rather high school kind of tale dressed up for grown-ups the party with some good writing but still a kids-collection story. “Carnal Knowledge,” on the other hand is like nothing you’ve ever read before. You’d expect plenty of sex, naturally. But animal rights? Thanksgiving? Turkeys? Big Macs? All of that and more. “Filthy With Things” is a humorous commentary on a capitalistic cure for materialism.
However, as it ought to be but seldom is, the title story takes the prize. Poor Irina, desparate for an American husband. Poor Casey, oscillating between fits of rage and romance over this stranger/lover in his apartment. There’s her wodka, her extravagance, her housekeeping, the sex, and all the rest that makes her someone he can’t stand, can’t live with, and can’t possibly let go. Boyle has us hanging on for every second of a great ride through this story, and the entire book is a wonderful cruise altogether.