Hundreds attend author T.C. Boyle’s talk in BTC Auditorium

Andrea Currie

Copy Editor

Author T.C. Boyle read to a crowd of about 200 in the BTC Auditorium at 11 a.m. on Friday, Apr. 24. The talk, which was free and open to the public, was attended by a mix of students, faculty, and community members. After Boyle read from his latest novel, he took questions from the audience.

Dr. Maria Palmara, chair of Hudson Valley’s English, Foreign Languages, and English as a Second Language department, introduced Boyle. She noted that Boyle was born in Peekskill, N.Y., that he had received the PEN Faulkner Award and PEN Malamud Prize, and that his work had been translated into more than two dozen languages.

“What better way to celebrate reading, writing, and literature than to have one of America’s leading writers join us today,” said Palmara.

Boyle said that he had spent time earlier that morning speaking with Hudson Valley students who had been assigned his work in their English classes. “It was a great joy, and I am honored that you’re reading my work and that you’ve all turned out at this very early hour to see me,” he said, to laughter from the audience.

“I like to remind especially the students that literature is not only and exclusively something that’s academic … It’s supposed to be subversive, and alive, and fun! And so I love to perform stories for people in a way that’s like this, and to remind us all of why we love literature,” said Boyle.

He said, “I thought I would tell you a little bit about the new novel and then give you a taste of it, and then eventually open this up to a Q and A, which I always enjoy doing.”

Boyle described this novel, The Harder They Come, as his meditation on gun violence in America. He said he focused on two news stories for the book. The central event was a 2011 incident in Fort Bragg, Calif., in which a young man with schizophrenia shot two people and fled into the forest, living off the land and evading capture by police. “One of the challenges for this book is to enter into the mind of a schizophrenic and how is he perceiving things,” said Boyle.

The other incident, which occurred several years earlier, happened when a former Marine was on a bus tour with other senior citizens when three robbers attacked the vehicle. He put one in a chokehold, eventually killing him. The other two robbers ran away, and the former Marine was celebrated as a hero, said Boyle.

He said that when writing his novel, he organically developed the idea that the Marine was the father of the young shooter, named Adam in the novel.

The third character, Boyle said, was a 40-year-old woman named Sara who becomes Adam’s lover. She is a member of the Sovereign Citizens Movement, a far-right group that pays no taxes and claims no allegiance to the U.S. government.

“The book goes a little deeper than just being about this propensity towards gun violence in America. And I’m just talking here about the individual shooter,” said Boyle.

He continued, “When I created Sara, I began to realize that this is really about the antiauthoritarian streak in American culture, which we all participate in to some degree. From the earliest age at school, we are taught to be skeptical of authority, to think for ourselves, to be independent, and I wonder where that kind of independence, that freedom of every individual, collides with the freedom of all the other individuals. Where do we agree to have a society and to respect one another, and to negotiate, and when are we apart? The harder they come, the harder they fall. It’s a kind of challenge. … Where do we draw the line?”

Boyle then read an excerpt from The Harder They Come, which he said was the introduction to Sara. He read clearly, fluidly, and with enthusiasm, the book’s sardonic humor eliciting chuckles from the audience.

Boyle read for about 17 minutes, then said he couldn’t resist telling the audience that the book became a love story, and said that in the next scene, Sara picks up Adam, who is hitchhiking, and the two of them quickly bond over their mutual hatred of police and society.

Boyle then took questions from the audience. 15 people asked him questions on topics ranging from his writing process to the themes of his novels to his hobbies.

One student asked Boyle how long it took him to get his first story published. Boyle said that he was lucky, and it only took him six months to have a story accepted for publication.

Asked about his own reading habits, Boyle said that he reads and enjoys the work of many of his contemporaries, including Kazuo Ishiguro, Richard Ford, Martin Amis, and Louise Erdrich. He added, “I also read a lot of nature writing. … I want to know about everything. I love the magic of nature, which of course is ironic, because there’s less and less of it left.”

Boyle said that he was very proud of receiving the Henry David Thoreau award in 2014, and said that he was the first honoree to write exclusively fiction.

Asked what his favorite part of the writing process was, Boyle described the entire process as “wonderful.”

He said, “When you’re writing a novel, the joy of it is, you know what you’re gonna do tomorrow morning. The problem is, you’re locked into a time, and a mode, and sometimes a historical situation. … Stories, on the other hand, anything that happens to you, or you hear, could be immediately fair game for a story. The problem with stories is, there’s a cycle. Once you get the idea, and you start it, and it comes to fruition, … then you have a period where you have to write another one, and you don’t know what it’s going to be.”

Boyle said that he typically spends a couple months researching before beginning a new novel. He said, “I like to give the history straight. I love the history, and I don’t want to change it unless I absolutely have to, if the story makes it go that way.”

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