Reading a story

Notes on “Greasy Lake” and T.C. Boyle

Attached Files:

Here are some brief notes concerning T.C. Boyle, author of “Greasy Lake.”

Boyle’s short story is full of tension and conflict, and the characters can be quirky, yet appealing to readers. Boyle aims to mix entertainment–telling a good story–with insights into the human condition. This story also clearly traces the narrator’s character arc from a tough “wannabe” “bad” person (all based on bravado) to a young man questioning his character and mortality by the end of the narrative.

“Greasy Lake” was inspired by music–a song entitled “Spirits in the Night” by Bruce Springsteen. He includes a lyric from this song before his narrative begins. He also infused some autobiographical details of his own life as a teenager of the 1960s (or as a “pampered punk” as he liked to call himself) into the story as well. Although not overtly specified, Boyle intends the story to be set soon after the end of the Vietnam War–this was a time of civil unrest, particularly from youth who distrusted the government and overall, just a time for a reinvention of an identity for America (and this could be applied to youth searching for their own identity in a volatile time).

Boyle also likes to create seemingly normal characters and settings but then something happens that transports them into a bizarre, unpredictable situation. There is always something sinister or unusual lying just beneath the surface of everyday life for Boyle’s characters, and, often, an important life lesson.

I’ve attached a file for you to reference–don’t worry, they’re not voluminous notes. Here you will find three popular theories on violence and human behavior by Freud, two noted sociologists, and Aristotle. As you read these theories, think about applying them to the violence and other events that occur within the story. In other words, how would Freud explain the boys crossing the line from normal behavior to primal violence? What elements of social contagion can be identified in the story? Is the narrator truly responsible for his actions or were his actions beyond his control?

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