Tuesday, October 23, 2012

San Miguel by TC Boyle

TC Boyle has such a gorgeous writing style. I found myself looking up words in my Kindle dictionary (at Seattle Arts & Lectures: "A reader, commenting on Boyle's extensive vocabulary, said that she enjoyed looking unfamiliar words up on her e-reader as she read. He responded that looking up words while reading, at least for fiction, pulls you out of the narrative and is to be discouraged." Shelf Awareness) I was happy to hear the new words. They just weave extra depth into an already complex fabric created by Boyle in his stories.

San Miguel is a tiny island off the California coasts, the westernmost in the chain of the Channel Islands. In other words, the last stop. And it is for a few of the characters that come to inhabit the place, but especially the women. While the men are there to make a living, to challenge themselves, the land, the status quo of the forbidding island, the women are doing what they must do to survive and keep their families alive. This is the story of three women who come to this place.

The first woman we meet is Marantha Waters (interesting name!), a 38 year old stricken with tuberculosis in 1888. Her family, her husband, her adopted daughter and a maid who is like another daughter to her, all move in to the "home" on the island, so they can tend the sheep. Promised by her husband this would be a healthful move for her, she soon realizes that it is not going to help her to be there at all, for a variety of reasons. The writing is amazing, transporting the reader, along with the Waters family, to a beautiful, yet seemingly God forsaken place to deal with dust storms, weather, sheep shearers and sneaking around in the small building they all must live in.

Marantha's daughter Edith is taken back to the island practically by force after her mother passes away. Edith is strong willed and yearning for independence from her step-father. She has her own unique experiences on the island, much of her time is spent scheming a way to get off the island.

We finally meet the Lester family who settle there in the 1930's, after the war to end all wars. Elise's husband is a damaged WW1 veteran, and the reader fears for the safety of the Lester family (they have two daughters n the island, eventually) the entire time spent with them. And the reader does very much have a sense of "knowing" San Miguel by the time the book finally ends.

This book is an emotionally exhausting roller coaster of a ride. Although the lens we see the island through is a female one (and Mr. Boyle does an excellent job with that lens), we feel we truly know all the people that live on the island: the hired help, the residents, the animals. And you will know the island, San Miguel. It was an important place in the history of our country as well as home to widely varying groups of people for many years.

4 stars
Check out this link to see information about the actual island!:
San Miguel

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