The first short story in T.C. Boyle's new collection, Tooth and Claw: Stories, is called "When I Woke Up This Morning, Everything I Had Was Gone." Subsequent stories, with titles such as "Swept Away," "All the Wrecks I've Crawled Out Of" and "The Doubtfulness of Water," might lead one to believe that Boyle is writing in response to the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina. But fortunately Boyle is not a prophet, simply a weirdly prolific guy in Southern California, writing about the postmodern malaise of everyday life.
Tooth and Claw is Boyle's seventeenth book; his gift for short fiction shot him to fame with 1985's Greasy Lake and is still evident, despite the greater popularity of his novels. If there is a place where Boyle succeeds artistically, it is within the tightly controlled drama of the short story, and he has not done so without recognition. The stories in Tooth and Claw have all been published before, in places like GQ, Harper's, The New Yorker and the O. Henry Prize Stories. Most are several years old, but that does not diminish their relevance to recent events. Boyle's characters swim rather hopelessly through a world of whiskey and water, where the facts of everyday life look like wreckage and feel like a hangover (a semi-permanent condition for some of Boyle's characters, it seems).
Discussing the Katrina aftermath on his Web site, www.tcboyle.com, Boyle remarks that the story he feels resonates most with the disaster "is 'Chicxulub,' in which the universe turns its indifferent face to us." This is the essence of Tooth and Claw, a collection designed for those of us making our way through the world in just that manner.