In Print

The Court Jester’s Tales

T.C. Boyle Stories:
by T. Coraghessan Boyle
Viking Press, 1998, $35


Other Stories

A Performance Pearl

Metropolitan Bound

Gender Bender in Cyberspace

Will America Age Gracefully?

Consult the Ratlas

Seeing Double in the O.R.

Growing Teeth

More Jail if You Fail

In Print: The Court Jester's Tales

Latino Leverage

A Catalytic Force

Stiff Upper Back



Don’t worry , T. Coraghessan Boyle is not dead, though he has published a collection of his short stories — a portentous sign, he would have you believe.
“Most writers come out with their collected stories about two weeks before they die,” the USC English professor points out. “It wasn’t my idea. My editor felt that with the warm response to my last three novels, there might be a new audience that didn’t know what I’ve accomplished with the short story.”
Strike while the iron is hot, the saying goes; and Boyle’s iron is sizzling. His last three novels — Riven Rock, The Tortilla Curtain and The Road to Wellville — all enjoyed wide success. But the goateed court jester of American fiction is still very much at home in the humble short-story genre, as his recently released collection, T.C. Boyle Stories, richly illustrates. In these 68 tales, Boyle bounces easily from psychological naturalism to giddy slapstick, dreamy surrealism to biting satire — sometimes within the space of a single story.
Critics have, as usual, been uninhibited in their praise of Boyle’s writing. The New York Times remarked on the book’s “overall inventiveness, flash and just plain entertainment value.” The Village Voice said Boyle “writes like a kid at a carnival, tossing off firecrackers of language that explode like Roman candles in our minds.”
Boyle inverts the old maxim about writing what you know: “I say, write what you don’t know.” The famous Boyle texture and detail doesn’t come from personal experience, but from painstaking research.
“For me, fiction is an exercise of the imagination,” he says. “It’s something you make up. The pleasure of making up stories comes when the reader believes you.”
Lately, Boyle’s imagination has been working up a sweat on his next novel, a yarn about the environmental movement that extends into the year 2025.
“The weather is real bad because of global warming,” Boyle says. The new book will be a departure from his recent work, he tantalizes. “I’d like my readers to know that this one is absolutely off the wall, absolutely crazy.”

Boyle has been teaching at USC almost as long as he’s been publishing stories. When he joined the English department’s faculty in 1978, he was the Creative Writing Program. Five story collections and seven novels later, he still considers teaching writing an exalted calling. “You’re really serving a higher purpose in educating people about good fiction and how interesting, vital and hip it is,” he says. “Maybe somebody will read a book today instead of watching the 18th rerun of ‘Happy Days.’”
As his career has blossomed, the twice-a-week trips to campus from his home in Montecito, Calif., have become more taxing. “Still, I don’t foresee retiring [from USC]” Boyle says. “I really want to continue teaching into the indefinite future. I love what I’m doing, and I’m proud of the program.”
And don’t be surprised if Boyle puts out another collection of short stories before his race is run. “I just turned 50, and I might have a few good years left in me,” he says. “Maybe there’ll be a second volume in 20 or 25 years.”

 


A Flourishing Yin: Gender in
China’s Medical History, 960-1665
by Charlotte Furth
University of California Press, $17.95

Charlotte Furth examines the tradition of fuke — or medicine for women — over 700 years of Chinese history. She explores the topics of fertility, menstruation, gestation, childbirth, sexuality and female disorders. “I argue that the medical body was culturally constructed as androgynous,” she writes. “The key concepts of yin and yang were ... the foundations of larger gendered meanings linking human creation and reproduction with cosmology.”



Leading With Knowledge: The Nature
of Competition in the 21st Century

by Richard C. Huseman
and Jon P. Goodman
Sage Publications, $27.95

Knowledge management is more than a buzzword: it’s the wave of the future, argue USC new-media business experts Richard C. Huseman and Jon C. Goodman. About 78 percent of American companies are moving toward becoming knowledge organizations. Such companies will focus less on short-term fixes — such as restructuring and downsizing — and more on knowledge creation and sharing strategies for longterm advantages, the authors contend.



Finding Fran: History and Memory
in the Lives of Two Women

by Lois W. Banner
Columbia University Press, $24.95

In the 1950s, Lois W. Banner was best friends with Fran Huneke. “Like me, she was a schoolgirl with her mind on books and boys,” writes Banner, a professor of history and gender studies. The girls’ lives took different paths: Banner’s to feminism; Fran’s to Islam. After 24 years, the author sought out her old friend. Reunited with Fran (now called Noura), Banner explores in this unusual memoir how her stereotypical views of Islam changed and how Noura taught her that freedom does not have the same meaning for everyone.

 

 

 

Book photograph by Rick Szczechowski

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