Sunday, June 26, 2016

WORLD'S END by T.C. Boyle

This novel is full of very wicked men of multiple generations.  The few good men are lost in the shuffle, and the women are pretty secondary throughout.  The Hatfields and McCoys have nothing on the Van Brunts and Van Warts of Peterskill, NY.  We pop back and forth between the 1690s and the 1960s, but nothing much changes during the intervening three centuries as far as these two families are concerned.  In the 17th century, the Van Brunts are tenant farmers on land owned by the Van Warts, and Jeremias Van Brunt balks each year when he has to pay his due.  In the 20th century, Walter Van Brunt manages to sever his feet in two separate motorcycle accidents.  And, yes, you can assume that alcohol was a factor.  Walter is basically a screw-up of epic proportions, haunted by the ghost of his long-gone father who may have betrayed Walter’s mother and godparents by skedaddling instead of going for help during a riot.  Some of these people are so vicious, the book becomes difficult to read at times.  Violence erupts over political differences, women, obligations to sadistic landlords, and bigotry, particularly toward Native Americans.  Probably the character who garners the most attention is Walter, whose lack of charisma is superseded only by that of his on-again, off-again employer, Depeyster Van Wart.  Depeyster, tortured by the fact that the Van Wart family line may end with him, follows in the footsteps of his ancestors, feeling that his wealth gives him the right to throw his weight around and crush anyone who stands in his way.  Two big questions loom:  Why exactly did Walter’s father abandon his wife and child, and what will Depeyster do if/when he discovers that his wife has been having an affair with a Native American?  The author fully addresses both questions, but that doesn’t mean you’ll like the answers.  My favorite thing about this book is that it mentions the snail darter, and I was a student at the University of Tennessee when this controversy brought the construction of TVA’s Tellico Dam to an abrupt halt.  I had no idea this endangered little fish had such a big fanbase.

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