Knowing that T.C. Boyle’s fans won’t be happy with my comments, I have to say that this story did nothing for me. First of all, he should have called it “Rat Chow,” which you’ll understand if you read the story Second, is there anything about this story that isn’t predictable? Third, the voice of the narrator, Roger, is bland and uninteresting, and while I understand that the point of view was necessary to the telling of the story, I wish at least that Roger had been more relevant to it. (There is one saving aspect to the point of view that I’ll come back to.)
Roger is telling this story from some distance. It’s events have already taken place and he’s just telling the tale—to a newcomer in town or to a new acquaintance, or whatever. He knows the outcome, of course, but he doesn’t tell the listener, except that the listener probably knows what’s coming. The story is about Gerard, a widower who is letting himself go and who understands this. His effort to keep hold of reality is to get a pet python—not quite the dog or cat that his neighbors had hoped, but it’s something. When it comes time to feed the snake, Gerard ends up rescuing the rat that is supposed to be its supper. And the rat seems to be affectionate—how, we should ask ourselves, does Roger, the narrator, know any of this, particularly since it was happening while he was away for four months in Switzerland?—and so Gerard picks up some more rats. And they multiply. And the rest isn’t hard to imagine.
I said there was one saving grace to the point of view and that is that Roger appears to be moved by Gerard’s experience. He shows his wife that he loves her. He’s grateful for his dogs.
The only thing about this story that I liked is that Gerard, before he let the snake die, was considering naming him Siddhartha, or Jason, one or the other. What? And he named the first rat Robbie. After his brother. Hah!
Okay, I’m done. Did anyone like this story?
July 7 & 14, 2008: “Thirteen Hundred Rats” by T.C. Boyle