T. C. Boyle

Up here in the Northwest, we take it as a matter of green faith that salmon habitat should be restored, dams removed, and our embarrassing past environmental mistakes—think of the milfoil in Lake Washington—rectified. That same urge drives the characters in T. C. Boyle’s new novel When the Killing’s Done (Viking, $26.95), with the islands off Santa Barbara, California being the contested ground of their idealism. Pristine before man arrived, this ecosystem is compromised with rats and feral pigs. But what kind of Eden should be restored? In one camp, Boyle places a biologist with deep family connections to the islands (events hopscotch from 1946 to the present decade); she’s a woman of science who believes invasive species should be eradicated. That amounts to the unethical killing of animals in the estimation of her opponents, who are led by a bipolar, dreadlocked white guy in his 40s, a home-electronics mogul who still can’t give up his morning eggs. Around them is a human ecosystem of supporters, traitors, and family—most with past history on the islands. Everyone has his or her notion of perfection for the islands: as they were, as they are, as they’re remembered. And every one of these flawed people—call them invasive species if you will—is granted dignity in Boyle’s expansive, generous storytelling. All strive for what the biologist experiences as “the pulse of something bigger, as if all things animate were beating in unison.” When the Killing’s Done is a novel about the battle to define that harmony. BRIAN MILLER

Tue., March 1, 7 p.m., 2011

 
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