T. Coraghessan Boyle's debut short-story collection, The Descent of Man, included a one-word epigraph: "Ungowa!" More than thirty years and seven short-fiction collections (not to mention twelve novels) later, the invocation of Tarzan still suits Boyle to a T — and not merely because the author's newest collection, published this month, is titled Wild Child. Boyle's fiction is a crackling amalgam of realism and fantastification, brilliant invention and historical fact. Descent contains a story about a man whose girlfriend is cheating on him with a chimp and another about blood falling from the sky like rain, and Boyle often draws on real-life figures — from British explorer Mungo Park (Water Music) to breakfast mogul John Harvey Kellogg (The Road to Wellville) to sex researcher Alfred Kinsey (The Inner Circle) to amorous architect Frank Lloyd Wright (The Women). But perhaps the strangest aspect of it all is the fact that the author's untethered imagination is delivered so engagingly. For all his flights of fancy, Boyle's work remains strikingly accessible. Doubtless that's a product of his uncanny ability to engender and satisfy a reader's expectations. Because contrary to the narrative arc of "Balto," which leads off Wild Child, when you climb aboard a Boyle tale, there's no doubt as to who's behind the wheel. Boyle appears at the St. Louis County Library Headquarters (1640 Lindbergh Boulevard, Frontenac; 314-994-3300 or www.slcl.org) at 7 p.m. to discuss his work and sign copies of his books. Admission is free, and books will be sold on-site.
Wed., Feb. 3, 2010