A Friend of the Earth


T. C. Boyle




Date Reviewed:

August 30, 2006

eading this book, it is clear that T. C. Boyle can write. He knows how to create characters, he can tell a story. But unfortunately, I didn't like any of the characters Boyle created, I didn't like the story he chose to tell. Quite a few of the reviews on Amazon refer to this book as "funny" or "amusing", but I found nothing humorous, but in fact it is relentlessly depressing.

Half of the chapters take place in 2025, when the protagonist, Ty Tierwater, is an old man. He works as a caretaker for a menagerie of wild animals - hyenas, lions, foxes - that are on the estate of a wealthy aging rock star. These wild animals may be the last remaining animals of their species, because the earth in 2025 is in ecological collapse. It rains all the time. Floods. Epic die offs. Hurricane winds. Everything is described in such dismal detail that it doesn't seem there should be any civilization left standing, certainly not one that allows the aging rock star to keep such an estate. Boyle doesn't explain exactly what catastrophe has destroyed the Earth's environment, (global warming? asteroid strike? bioterrism? There are several references to some kind of contagious killer flu.) but it is clear that the world is in bad shape and it is going to get worse. Ty Tierwater is pretty much resigned to this dismal state of affairs, in his youth he was an ecoterrorist, preaching about the perils of our unsustainable 20th century lifestyle.

The other half of the book details Ty's escapades as a Friend of the Earth. He commits acts of sabotage, destroying property - but of course this has no effect. Ty announces that to love the Earth, you must hate people - an absurd premise. He is aided by Andrea, another eco-radical. But what exactly is accomplished by destroying bulldozers or burning down forests of monoculture trees? Maybe Boyle is trying to make a point, that even though the environmentalists are flawed in their techniques, their message may still be valid? Eventually, Ty gets arrested for his eco-sabotage, and ends up in jail, where is separated from Andrea and their daughter, Sierra. Sierra is a true believer in the green movement, she is about the only likeable person in the book, and Boyle makes fun of her earnestness by giving her a new cause every other week. Sierra ends becoming a celebrity when she sits in a big old growth tree to prevent a timber company from cutting it down.

At one point, during the holiday season of 2025, when Ty and his allies are holed up in the rock star's mansion during a torrential rain storm, the doorbell rings. Ty answers the door and finds two neighbors, who ask for shelter because their place has collapsed. Ty refuses to admit them, perhaps due to fears of flu bug. But at this point, the hyena escapes out the front door. Boyle has given us plenty of description about how dangerous these vicious animals are, but Ty just shuts the door, locking the neighbors outside with a ravenous hyena. Oddly enough, this plot thread is left dangling - we never hear what happens. But how can anyone find anything to like in character like Ty when he acts in such a callous manner?

I may try reading another book by Boyle, he is highly regarded, and it is clear that he can write. Maybe the book is his worst effort. I recommended skipping this one.