Sunday, May 08, 2011

When the Killing's Done a provocative novel

Book 50: When the Killing’s Done by T.C. Boyle

Arrogance and anger fuel the deeply flawed characters that vie for the right to decide the fate of the animals inhabiting two of California's northern Channel Islands in T.C. Boyle's engrossing When The Killing's Done.

Arrogance belongs to Alma Takesue, a National Park Service biologist, who is determined to clear the islands, Anacapa and Santa Cruz, of invasive species so that the endangered native population might flourish. On Anacapa, Takesue commands efforts to rid the island of rats that have come ashore via shipwrecks. On Santa Cruz, the target is feral pigs.

Anger drives Dave LaJoy, owner of a chain of high-end electronic stores, who is determined to oppose Takesue at every turn.  LaJoy dated Takesue once briefly, but their night out did not go well.  One wonders if his campaign to oppose the park service is because of the abortive romance or because he genuinely believes that the lives of all animals -- even the unwanted island invaders -- is worthy of protection. 

When the Killing's Done pits romance against reason, science vs. belief. Takesue is guided by reason and facts as she sees them. She is convinced that the logic of her argument will sway a rational listener. But the dreadlocked LaJoy is not a rational man. Boyle gives us Takesue's backstory, but not LaJoy's. We do not know the source of his anger, only that it is liable to boil into a violent confrontation at any moment.

The animals of Anacapa and Santa Cruz, whether unwanted invader or failing native, fade into the background as Takesue and LaJoy wage their battle for supremacy of the islands. Their shadowy presence lies at the essence of Boyle's message -- if the two characters are both deeply committed to the natural world could they not sit down and find a way to collaborate, to wrest a win-win from their confrontation.

Perhaps, but Takesue and LaJoy are so committed to their own viewpoint, their own ideology, that they are incapable of seeing merit in the other's stand, however principled or well intentioned. The fate of the animals seems to matter less than winning.

As we've come to expect from his work, Boyle has written a provocative novel that raises far more questions than it answers.  Those questions linger long after the reader has finished this fine novel.

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