He’s been called ''America’s most imaginative contemporary novelist.'' And T. C. Boyle's latest effort, San Miguel, firmly cements the label. A sweeping, multi-generational saga, the novel explores the inner lives of three women. The action is set on San Miguel, a desolate island off the coast of California, and begins in the 1880s. Marantha Waters is on a schooner, making her way to the treeless island. Ill with tuberculosis, she's been enticed to make the move by her husband's promise that the island's ''virginal air'' will cure her condition. (It does quite the opposite, of course.) Before she sets foot on San Miguel, she knows she's lost. The second section of the book starts several years later, with Marantha's teenage daughter Edith now caught in the same trap of isolation and desperation her mother faced. The third part introduces Elise, who comes to the island with her moody husband, hoping to find some peace for her distressed family.
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The living conditions on San Miguel are brutal. The wind beats down on the islanders mercilessly; the housing is drafty and dirty. But it's the emotional environment that wears away at the characters, and Boyle shows them no mercy. He hits them with blow after blow, and all but assures them, and the reader, that there's nothing but more years filled with loneliness and despair to come. Only Elise has some sense of hope, but even that is on shaky ground, dependent on her husband's volatile temperament. Boyle appears as part of the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series today at 7:30 p.m.
Mon., Oct. 15, 7:30 p.m., 2012