Wild Child and Other Storiesis the celebrated novelist T.C. Boyle’s twenty-first book. Exploring contemporary life in all its humor, vulgarity and sorrow, the fourteen short stories in Wild Child are miniature explosions of deft plotting and vivid prose. The collection culminates with the title story, a masterful retelling of the saga of Victor, the famous “feral child” found in the countryside of eighteenth-century France, and a meditation on the nature of agency, identity and humanity. The story of Victor, who struggles to communicate at even the most rudimentary levels, could be read as a parable of authorship, of the difficulty and futility of making oneself understood.
The hallmark of Boyle’s fiction has always been his uncanny ability to inhabit the minds and voices of an astounding range of characters, from the eccentric cereal tycoon John Harvey Kellogg in 1993’s The Road to Wellville to the wives of architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 2009’s The Women. Wild Child, the collection, testifies to the evolution of Boyle’s writerly techniques and to the enduring power of his visual imagination. The stories leave us with a stream of images, irreducibly real and yet inexplicable: a housewife and a tiger face-to-face in a suburban backyard, a stretch of road wiped clean by a mudslide, snakes ribboning out of a hole in the ground, a flaming brazier in a dusty canyon. They are the kinds of images that stay in the mind, seemingly summoned from a dreamlike subconscious, but captured on the page with the fierce undeniablility of reality.
- Right before the climactic moment in “Balto,” the narrator says of her father that “she loved him in that moment more than she ever had” (page 21). Why does Angelle say this? Does it fit with what she does next? How is her love for her father reconciled with her decision to tell the truth about the accident?
- The driver in “La Conchita” becomes “a seer—a fortune teller—for fifteen hard minutes” (page 32) while he digs through the mudslide. How does his vision fit in with “Alice”? With “the girl in the muddy shorts”? Is he a reliable narrator?
- What is the relation between the alternating narratives in “Question 62”? Why does the author tell these two stories simultaneously? How are their meanings linked, if at all?
- What does the appearance of Dámaso mean to the doctor in “Sin Dolor”? How does the doctor attempt to counteract “the grinding sadness of the world” (page 66)? What is the result? What does Dámaso’s death say about the nature of the world? About the nature of pain?
- The narrator of “Bulletproof” says that he “didn’t want to delve beneath the surface. It was too cold down there, too dark and claustrophobic” (page 81). What is he avoiding? What is he frightened of? How does the narrator try to keep his life operating only on the surface? Does he succeed?
- The lovelorn divorcée in “Hands On” wants “to look real, not like some mannequin” (page 110), yet submits to plastic surgery. How is she different from or similar to Maggie the receptionist?
- What is Nisha’s plan at the end of “Admiral”? What is she trying to do? Why?
- Boyle inhabits the voices of a variety of characters in Wild Child, from the preteen girl in “Balto” to the Japanese scientist in “Ash Monday.” Which of the voices do you like best?
- Have you ever experienced or witnessed a fire like the one in “Ash Monday”?
- Do you find the Wild Child—l’enfant sauvage—to be sympathetic? How or how not? How is he depicted?
- How do you feel about the character of Lonnie in “The Lie”? How is he essentially different, for example, from the narrators of “Bulletproof” and “La Conchita”?