If Haile Selassie, whom some remember as a bit of a biker from his days of exile in the West of England, had been stretched to 6'3" and given a part in Easy Rider, he would have looked rather like Tom Coraghessan Boyle as he appears on the front of the Collected Stories - an improbable confection of soulful eyes, hollow cheeks, frizzy facial hair and black leather. But although the impression that Boyle is a low-life lion of the interstates is strenuously maintained by his publishers - who report that he was a child of the Sixties, 'a maniacal crazy-driver' who ate anything he could lay his hands on, bought heroin for £5 a bag and listened to music with Linda Lovelace - his writing suggests an altogether less exotic and more wholesome milieu. Boyle studied at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and teaches at the University of Southern California, and his fiction often relies on the kind of farmboy irony that may come naturally to Ross Perot, but which appears to have been institutionalised in some American creative writing programmes. In such stories, the setting is the affluent suburbs: the Mercedes is in the garage, the National Geographic is on the table, and the jokes are about new-fangled technologies that don't work or have unexpected consequences - security alarms, genetic engineering, research on primate intelligence. The implication is always that back on the farm, no one would have been fooled in the first place.
LRB 6 January 1994 | PDF Download