“Thirteen Hundred Rats” by T. Coraghessan Boyle

T.C. Boyle has a new story in this month’s The New Yorker. It’s called, “Thirteen Hundred Rats,” and, as the title implies, Boyle, once again, contemplates a situation where mankind is overwhelmed by nature. From the introduction, here’s a description of the story’s unfortunate protagonist:

“By my calculation, Gerard Loomis was in his mid-fifties when Marietta was taken from him, but at the ceremony in the chapel he looked so scorched and stricken that people mistook him for a man ten or twenty years older. He sat collapsed in the front pew, his clothes mismatched and his limbs splayed in the extremity of his grief, looking as if he’d been dropped there from a great height, like a bird stripped of its feathers in some aerial catastrophe.”

This story reminds me of my last apartment. The guy who lived there before me bred snakes. He had more than fifty of them, some apparently worth tens of thousands of dollars, living in a one-bedroom flat. He slept in the living room and in the bedroom he’d constructed an elaborate system of shelves and lights to house his prized snakes. For food, he raised rats in the hallway closet. The apartment carried the faint cedar-shaving odor of a pet store for a long time after I moved in and I was deathly afraid using the toilet in the dark. I remember getting a nasty lung infection that lasted for a couple of weeks and my mother calling me, certain that I’d contracted the hantavirus from rat feces decaying in the apartment’s dust. This story is like one of my nightmares from that time.

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Drop City by T.C. Boyle

Buy it at Amazon.com

The 150-word Review: Nature’s ability to occasionally usurp modern mankind has been a major theme in T.C. Boyle’s oeuvre. Ever since a chimpanzee stole a man’s wife in “The Decent of Man,” Boyle has sought to remind us of our insignificance in the face of a merciless natural world. In “Drop City” Boyle returns to this notion via the unforgiving Alaskan interior.

Drop City is a commune, located along the Russian River in Northern California, that seems to embrace all of the capricious excesses of the waning counterculture and little else. When the deplorable sanitary conditions (and civic pressures) make Drop City uninhabitable, the gang moves their utopia north to Alaska, where they encounter another fringe community: a mostly-male menagerie of bush pilots, Vietnam vets, and modern transcendentalists. As the Alaskan winter looms, the peace-and-love platitudes are stripped bare and only the most basic human condition that has dominated for millennia remains: survival.

Having this book on your shelf will impress: Christopher McCandless, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, Henry David Thoreau, Les Stroud, and Thomas More.

This book will go great with: home-made wine and moose jerky.

Set the mood with: Truckin’ by The Greatful Dead.

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, the “real” Drop City was located in Colorado from 1965 to 1968.