Review: A Friend of the Earth

A Friend of the Earth
by: TC Boyle

I’m a real PG or PG13 reader and sometimes it’s hard for me to buy books on the mainstream market from authors I’m unfamiliar with because then I don’t know what I’m going to get when reading the book.  I like a good story, but I don’t want to read about sex, sexual situations, or find myself reading some gory details about a murder or rape.  As a result, I tend to buy books that have been suggested to me by those I trust or from authors I have read before.  And this doesn’t mean I don’t read books with some sexual situations, it just means that I don’t want the whole storyline to be about those situations; if it’s relevent to the plot I’m okay with it.  That being said, A Friend of the Earth by TC Boyle was a book given to me by a friend who read and enjoyed it and thought I might to.  Did I?  Well, read my below review to find out. :p

A few years back I read The Tortilla Curtain by this author and I remembered liking the story (although the ending was a bit dissatisfying) so when my friend mentioned this book was written by the same author, I figured I’d give it a read.  The overall summary of the story sounded interesting enough and so I gladly accepted the book and began to read.

A Friend of the Earth is an interesting, kind of dismal story about a man dealing with his past problems while living a routine existence – until his ex-wife comes on the scene and rocks his mundane world with the glories of yesterday and the promise to help return meaning to his uneventful life. The author sets the stage of his story in the future and gives the reader a disheartening account of how bad the world has become.  2025 is a world where many animals and aquatic life are extinct, global warming is a reality, and the earth is populated with people who have a nonchalant attitude towards this grimly future.  The main character, Tyrone Tierwater lives in this world and at one time fought against those who mistreated the earth.  Unfortunately, because of his involvement with the a group called Earth Forever!, his life is changed and he finds himself an outcast of society and the law.  Will all his endeavors really help in making Earth a better place to live?

The opening chapter of the book captured my interested, but due to the gloomy outlook on life it soon became a depressing read.  That’s why I welcomed the portions of the book that told about the past; even when the circumstances were dire, these parts of the story still held hope and the characters still believed that they could change the future in a positive way.  I guess that is why the present story told in 2025 was so gloomy – they were now in the future and discovered their past actions really had no positive effect on the future they were now living in.

This dismal outlook was one of the reasons I walked away from this book a little torn; not really hating the story but not really liking it either.  I understand why the atmosphere of the book is drab and the mood surrounding the story of Ty and the life he lives in the future is discouraging.  I believe this bleak setting is intended by the author as a way to really get the reader to think about their actions and how it affects the earth.  That future world of 2025 in the book could just be our future world; if we let our unconcerned attitude about the environment go unchecked.  Yes, this book is more than a story to entertain.  It’s a lesson too – a good lesson but one that was smothered in the story.

The other reason I’m at a crossroad about this novel is the characters.  They were interesting and well developed, but I never really connected with any of them which left me isolated from the story.  Then there’s the topic of sexual content; this book had lots of situations pertaining to sex…the main character, although older, seemed to be a teenager at heart because he was always thinking about it.  To me it was too much.

What I liked about the story was the relationship between Ty and his daughter.  Even though the book was written in the future, there were separate stories about Ty’s past that involved his daughter Sierra and these recollections of the past made the book more personal and gave insight to the reader about Ty’s mental and emotional wellbeing.  I liked this aspect of the book; the relational development of the characters.  I also liked how the story brought to light what many people and groups today are fighting for – a clean planet with an environmentally aware populace.

I would be more inclined to give A Friend of the Earth a more favorable review if it didn’t have so much sexual content.  Again, this is my preference when reading a book.  If you don’t mind such situations, then I’m sure you will find this book an interesting one with great characters and entertaining circumstances.

Due to the mature contents of this is a book, I would recommend it only to the adult reader.  Those familiar with TC Boyle will be interested in reading this book, as will those who enjoy reading books that forecast the future.  Male or female, I don’t think the book tends to cater to one over the other.  Not a book you’d want to read if you are sensitive to or uncomfortable reading about sexual situations.

Below are a few interview questions pertaining to the book.
For the complete transcript, visit Penguin’s website.

Why did you decide to switch between the first- and third-person narratives? What would the Ty Tierwater of 2025 and the Ty Tierwater of the 1990s have to say to each other?

The discovery I stumbled uponthat of switching between first- and third-person point-of-view while incorporating both in a single characterwas a lucky accident. I began the book at Part I, in the third person, but then went back to write the Prologue in Ty’s own cranky, elderly, been-there-done-that voice. This, I think, gives a great deal more color to the third-person sections, in that the reader understands that they are being written by Ty, with all of his prejudices and attitudes intact.

Your vision of the near future is bleak and you label your book “Fiction?” How much does Friend reflect your own prejudices and fears?

Regarding my own prejudices and fears: this book encapsulates them and writes them large. I worry about everything, from the extinction of the canyon wren (see The Tortilla Curtain) to the frying of the plankton like wontons due to the holes in the ozone layer to overpopulation and the slow starvation of one-third of the world’s population. I am depressed. I feel helpless. I’ve read our major environmental writers and none of them offers a breath of hope. What to do? Write a fiction and try to sort out my own feelings.

Most of Friend takes place in the Pacific Northwest and California’s Sierra Nevada. What role does the setting play in the story, and how much of it is drawn from your life in Santa Barbara?

The setting, of course, was largely dictated by where the actual events of the environmental movement had taken place, as with the action in the Siskiyou, based on an Earth First! action. And, of course, as a Californian who indulges his love of nature by cruising the ancient Sequoia forests with birds perched on his shoulders (in the manner of St. Francis) these landscapes are very special to me. In fact, they are holy. People ask me what specifically I do to identify myself as an environmentalist, and I answer this: Quite simply, I walk in the woods. May you all have the opportunity to do the same.

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