Speaking of T.C. Boyle

At the Lobero Theatre, Monday, May 22.

Reviewed by Matt Kettmann

Old-time storytelling tradition blended with biting pop
culturalism — what could be better fodder for a Speaking of Stories
evening? And who’s a more fitting author than our very own T.C.
Boyle, the master of weaving modern life’s quirks and extravagances
into otherwise timeless yarns? Monday night’s spoken story buffet
spanned Boyle’s illustrious, short story-laced career, from 1977’s
“The Champ” and 1988’s “Zapatos” to “Swept Away,” from 2005’s
Tooth and Claw, “La Conchita,” his meditation on the
mudslide that appeared last December in The New Yorker, and the
unpublished “Hands On.”

First off was “The Champ,” the tale of an aging
food-eating-contest prizefighter read in perfect boxing movie
voices by Charles de L’Arbre. As Angelo “The Champ” D prepares for
his showdown against cocksure up-and-comer Kid Gullet — who claims
to “float like a parfait, sting like a tamale” — the crowd, well,
ate it up, eventually pulling for The Champ, who finds redemption
during their showdown, when everyone from Ronald McDonald to
Colonel Sanders is watching.

“Zapatos,” read by Joseph Velasco, is a story about a fictional
country with high taxes, money called “huevos,” an “unfriendly”
government, and an uncle whose sole desire is to sell Italian
loafers. The uncle conspires with the narrator — his nephew who’s
studying semantics, hermeneutics, and the “deconstruction of
deconstruction” in college — in a cross-country scheme to import
the shoes. It works, the uncle goes on to work for the president,
and our narrator starts studying business because “now the
government’s not so unfriendly after all.”

Well-known TV and screen actor Joe Spano held a pint of dark ale
and donned an Irish accent for “Swept Away,” a longer story about
windblown love, whiskey-aided loss, and an American “birdwoman” who
changed an island. Boyle’s tale weaves “the artist formerly known
as Prince” with characters at Magnusson’s Bar, who watch their good
friend Robbie fall for the birdwoman he saved after she was struck
in the face by a cat. As could be guessed, wind plays an end to the
story as well.

Julie Pearl took the flower-fronted podium to read the
as-yet-unpublished “Hands On,” a modern fable set in Santa Barbara
about a woman who goes to a plastic surgeon for Botox treatment,
only to fall for him in her painful quest for utter improvement.
Pearl’s reading was perhaps the most lively of the night — although
it was a third-person story, you could feel the pain in the heart
of the protagonist, a divorcee on the verge of 35 with a silent
house and longing heart.

Lastly was T.C. Boyle, who, after saying that the night had been
“pure nirvana,” began reading “La Conchita,” a fictional
first-person story of how a delivery driver experiences personal
change amidst the January 2005 mudslide tragedy. As such, it was a
particularly engaging tale, especially for me, since I was there as
a news reporter just an hour after the mountain fell. (He even got
the consistency of the mud correct: “pancake batter.”) Boyle,
dressed in a flamboyant yellow sport coat and waving his arms
wildly, excellently showed how the road-ragin’, gun-toting
deliveryman who was stopped by the slide turned — thanks to
tragedy — into a man who could only focus on digging out more
buried souls. It was a moving end to a mostly humorous and
fun-loving evening, one that only the words of T.C. Boyle could


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