Last week, after starting the year with stories by Updike and Doctorow, I guessed that this week we’d have Munro. My first thought was T.C. Boyle, but changed it at the last minute. Should have stuck with my gut, because the third story of the year is “Ash Mondy” by T. Coraghessan Boyle. But is it a story? The contributors’ notes tell us that Boyle has a new novel coming in a year, titled The Women, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this “story,” if you want to call it that, is excerpted from the novel. The writing here is engaging, as Boyle always is. We are shown three intriguing characters, with glimpses of a couple more. In fact, this story moves among the points of view of the three most fully developed characters, Dill and his Japanese neighbors Sanjuro and Setsuko. None of them is appealing. The Japanese characters think of Dill as a little hoodlum, and they probably aren’t wrong, but they are arrogant racists themselves, so the reader doesn’t place much sympathy with them. So whose story is this? We might think it’s Dill, a 13-year-old who carries all the usual resentment, and then some, since we start with his point of view and return there a couple of times. But the story ends with Setsuko, with her thoughts and her significant action, suggesting that in fact it is her story. And that’s why I suspect the answer is – this isn’t a story.
January 21, 2008: "Ash Monday" by T.C. Boyle