"The Fugitive"
by T. Coraghessan Boyle
Originally published in the July 4, 2016 issue of The New Yorker.

July 4, 2016Just a few days ago one of the commenters on Karen Russell’s “The Bog Girl” disparaged that story by saying: “We’re in T.C. Boyle territory here, where the characters exist to show how clever the writer is.” Well, that’s just asking for it! So here we are with another story from the acclaimed and sometimes maligned T.C. Boyle.

Personally, on average I quite like Boyle’s stories. That said, I think I stick to something I said on here when I finished his story “The Night of the Satellie”: “I’m always interested while reading a T.C. Boyle story but uninterested when I finish it.” I hope this one bucks that trend!

I’ll be leaving my comments on the story itself below as soon as I’ve finished it. We’d all love to hear your thoughts, pro or con, so leave a comment below!

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By |2016-06-27T00:11:57+00:00June 27th, 2016|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, T. Coraghessan Boyle|Tags: |32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. David June 27, 2016 at 10:59 am

    Are “spoiler” warnings expected here? I don’t know, but in case they are you should know that the rest of my comment pretty much covers the entire plot of the story. You should read the story first. That is, unless you want me to save you the time, in which case read on now….

    Rosa: “You won’t believe how my day went. There’s this man who has tuberculosis and he won’t stay on his meds so it developed into a drug-resistant type.”
    Rosa’s husband: “Really?”
    Rosa: “Yeah. He was told he had to wear a mask at all times or we would have to take him into custody as a public health risk.”
    Husband: “Wow.”
    Rosa: “I know. But he went to a bar and work without it so we had to take him in.”
    Husband: “Oh no.”
    Rosa: “Yes. But he didn’t want to come. He tried to run away and then after we got him to the facility he ran away again.”
    Husband: “What was he thinking?”
    Rosa: “I don’t know. He used to have a gardening job that required him to drown possums and raccoons they captured. Maybe he was thinking about that and how the animals struggled as he killed them.”
    Husband: “Maybe…. What’s for supper?”

    I know how Rosa’s husband feels.

  2. Trevor Berrett June 28, 2016 at 11:35 am

    I wish I’d let you save me the time, David. “The Fugitive” makes Theroux’s “Upside-Down Cake” look like a masterpiece! What a ham-fisted, patronizing exercise in spinning narrative wheels for a really trite metaphor (not that the story was any good before the ending).

    “The Fugitive” concerns a U.S. citizen of Mexican descent (his parents were deported when he was two) suffering from a contagious disease as well as the health regime that would try to contain him . . . I’m sorry, I have no wish to think any more on it.

  3. Joe July 7, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    U
    N
    B
    E
    L
    I
    E
    V
    A
    B
    L
    Y

    A
    W
    F
    U
    L.

    There are good writers and good stories being published all over the damn place. Why not in The New Yorker?

    I bet this is a friggin’ novel excerpt.

    Oh, and I once was in charge of making TC Boyle comfortable before a reading at the bookstore I worked at — he remains the largest literary asshole I have ever had the displeasure of meeting. I once was a fan, but that was halted when I met him and has flavored my view. That said, this story was a pile of junk.

  4. Greg July 10, 2016 at 10:37 am

    Thank you David, Trevor and Joe for your accurate assessments of this very disappointing story.

    Sure, the idea of writing about a diseased person spreading his germs carelessly is a great idea, but it has to be done to an artistic quality which is expected from the widely revered NYR.

  5. David July 10, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    Greg, to be clear, my criticism of the story is not actually one based on thinking it lacked in “artistic quality” generally (although the trapped animal metaphor was cliché). My criticism is that the story is only meaningful if you are persuaded, as Boyle hopes you will be, that Marciano deserves our sympathy rather than our scorn. In the interview accompanying the story he makes it clear that he expects the reader to naturally feel that someone who acts as Marciano does is just being irresponsible and the way he is dealt with is fair, but he hopes to change our minds. Boyle says that illness is something that could happen to anyone and so it is unjust to persecute Marciano just because he is sick.

    The problem is Boyle is quite clearly wrong in his position. Yes, illness is unfair and could happen to anyone, but that is not why burdens are being placed on Marciano. If only he had taken his medicine instead of just some of it he would not have developed a drug resistant form of TB, so being forced to wear the mask is his fault. Then when he refuses to wear the mask endangering people’s lives, it is his choices – his actions – that cause the response. This is not something that happens, as Boyle claims, just because Marciano is sick. The detention is a result of his actions, not his illness. If Marciano were legally blind but insisted on driving because it is unfair that he go blind while others do not and that he be banned from driving while others (who can see) are not, we would not be sympathetic to how he endangers the lives of others. This case is no different.

    What makes things even worse is Boyle admits in the interview that making Marciano an American-born, Mexican-raised, non-English-speaking, uneducated, manual labourer was calculated as a way of trying to play on liberal guilt in his readers to feel sympathetically for him. Maybe if Boyle can spark some other reasons for feeling sorry for him for how he has been wronged in life we then might let that spill over and decide he was wronged by a medical system that decided he needed to be detained to protect the health of others. That strategy is manipulative and offensive.

    Because I was unaware of Boyle’s objective and strategy to achieve it when I read the story – in fact I would not have imagined that this was his objective and strategy had he not explained it, my initial reaction was that the story lacked a good reason to be told. Artistically it was fine (again, save for the animal metaphor). I am not bothered much by Boyle being wrong in his sympathies for Marciano. While I have no doubt he is wrong, I can see why he might be fooled by focusing too much on the initial contraction of the illness and not how Marciano’s actions subsequently make things worse and dangerous. But the cynical way he goes about trying to bully us into accepting his view is more deeply problematic. For me the story’s failure is a moral one, not an artistic one.

  6. Greg July 12, 2016 at 9:48 pm

    Thank you so much David for taking the time to fully explain to us that it was the author’s manipulation which you had an issue with. Now I truly understand why the story is a disappointment.

  7. mehbe July 15, 2016 at 8:57 pm

    Besides the good reasons others have given for the failure of this weak story, there is also a problem with consistency in the presentation of the main character’s understanding of his disease. On one hand, he doesn’t really seem to fully realize how it imperils those around him if he doesn’t wear a mask. But, suddenly, for plot convenience, he understands quite well what spitting his sputum on his captors means, and manages, rather unbelievably, to hit all three of them in the face with it. Really?? I’m not buying it.

  8. Greg July 17, 2016 at 1:29 am

    Good catch Mehbe!

  9. Roger July 17, 2016 at 7:52 pm

    I’ll be the lone dissenter on this one. This story reminded me of why Boyle is a stylistic virtuoso, operating at a level that most contemporary writers can only dream of. The voice, the sensory details, and the way the reader is placed inside Marciano’s sick body and badly misguided but human point of view, were masterful. Marciano’s crush on Rosa and his marginal space in society, even apart from his illness, made him someone I could be interested in. Even though I disagreed strongly with his behavior, I could feel and hence understand the frustration behind it.

    I disagree with those who suggest that Boyle is trying to manipulate the reader’s guilt so that we are on Marciano’s side. (Though I was on his side, in the sense of wanting him to be captured and confined for the medical treatment he needs.) Rather, the character’s thoughts and actions are presented and the effect, for me at least, is that the reader’s critical judgment is tempered by empathy. I’m surprised by the notion that a story fails morally merely because its main character behaves immorally. It seems to me that in touching a reader so as to cause us to empathize — to an extent — with Marciano, the story is doing a moral service.

  10. David July 17, 2016 at 9:19 pm

    Roger, the idea that Boyle was being manipulative was one, as I said, that had not occurred to me until reading the interview with him when he basically says that is what he was doing.

    Also for mehbe, I did not want to have to check back to reread the story, but I didn’t remember Marciano not understanding the disease. What I remember is him just not caring about the wellbeing of others (which makes him extremely unsympathetic). Fortunately, the Boyle interview again comes to the rescue. There he says “He understands the situation, but the mask is uncomfortable and stigmatizing, and he resents being saddled with it. He wants to be free of it, free of everything—he took his chances in society, and so must everyone else.”

    When, as you put it Roger, a story fails morally it is a serious problem. It’s fine that Marciano wants to “take his chances” but when he says “so must everyone else” that’s like a reckless driver saying “hey, if I’m going to risk my life it’s ok for me to risk yours too”. Total nonsense. It is fine for a character to fail morally, but when the story itself requires the reader to accept morally repugnant ideas in order for it to work, then it can’t work. Yes, I do feel sorry for Marciano insofar as he has TB, but if he had just taken his meds he would have taken care of that. Yes its a shame he has to wear a mask, but if he had just done that he would not have risked the lives of others. So when he spits at people and goes on the run, I have no sympathy left for him. He is not anything like the animals Boyle tries to compare him to. They are complete innocents. Marciano is not.

  11. Roger July 17, 2016 at 11:45 pm

    David, I read Boyle’s interview differently. The quotes from the interview that you provide involve Boyle’s characterization of Marciano’s thinking — they do not represent Boyle’s own view, nor does he suggest he agrees with Marciano or expects the reader to do so. To the contrary, when Treisman asks whether Boyle’s sympathies lie with Marciano or with Rosa, Boyle responds: “My sympathies lie with both characters, whose points of view I hope to inhabit in order to explore not only the dramatic possibilities of the scenario but the ethics as well.” Later in the interview, Boyle says: “Ask, in this case: Does the individual have the inalienable right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness absolutely, without responsibility for the rest of society?” Boyle makes it a practice to raise questions in his stories and let the reader mull the implications, but he tips his hand a bit in the interview by phrasing this question in such an obviously rhetorical fashion — of course no one’s right to liberty should be exercised “without responsibility for the rest of society.” The notion that readers are expected to “accept [Marciano’s] morally repugnant ideas” strikes me as not supported by the story’s text and at odds with Boyle’s rhetorical question in the interview.

    Nor do I see a place in the interview where Boyle “admits” trying to trick us into sympathizing with Marciano merely because he is a poor man from Mexico struggling to survive by working landscaping jobs, as you state in your earlier post. Rather, Boyle tells Treisman that he created the character to mirror society’s views of those with communicable disease: “We tend to view diseases like tuberculosis . . . as being confined to the poor, the dirty, the foreign, when in fact we are all one species and all equally at risk, which is why we have public-health laws in the first place.” I’m not certain what Boyle means here, but am certain he’s not admitting to being manipulative. Rather, he seems concerned that the story would be too out of sync with readers’ expectations if the main character were a “white American man” (Treisman’s words).

    In Marciano, as I see it, Boyle gives us a character who has not fully cultivated his ethical (or moral, if you prefer) sensibilities and, as a result, focuses on his own desire for freedom rather than on the risks he presents to others. That’s what makes the story interesting. The story is not a polemic telling us how to feel about Marciano’s behavior. Rather, it prods us to allow room to understand, or even “sympathize with,” the point of view of a flawed character without embracing that point of view. This seems the opposite of manipulative – unless one considers it manipulative for a story to lead a reader to imagine situations and ideas the reader has not previously been open to considering. (In which case a lot of outstanding fiction is manipulative.)

    My sense is that for you and probably other readers, the story doesn’t succeed because there is, in your view, nothing nuanced about the situation. Marciano is dreadfully wrong, and that is that. I can understand the story not working for you for that reason. For me, it works because if I put myself in Marciano’s position, which would include erasing some of my own ethical sensibilities, I can imagine feeling his frustration and can go along as a passenger on his irresponsible (and vividly rendered) ride. Put otherwise, and to borrow from your earlier post, I don’t think we are faced with a binary choice about Marciano deserving our sympathy rather than our scorn. I felt both sympathy and scorn for this character.

    Of course, it helps when we get a description of Rosa’s lips as “plump and adhesive” and learn that Marciano “wanted desperately in that moment to get well, if for no other reason than to maybe be able to kiss them.”

  12. Greg July 17, 2016 at 11:45 pm

    I see what you are getting at David in the moral sense: For example, we wouldn’t want our kids in school to be introduced to this story and the accompanying author interview due to accountability issues.

  13. David July 18, 2016 at 12:20 am

    Roger, in the interview Boyle says this: “Marciano contracted a disease through no fault of his own, in the same way that most of us get a cold or the flu every winter, and yet he is criminalized as a result.” This is not him expressing Marciano’s point of view, but his (Boyle’s) own. He says Marciano is criminalized for being sick through no fault of his own. But this is not true. The TB became drug resistant as a result of Marciano’s actions and he was only “criminalized” when he refused to wear the mask and thus endangered other people. Boyle is wrong to say Marciano is not at fault. He was not “criminalized” merely for being sick.

    As for the manipulative part, you quoted the section where he discusses that, but you say you don’t know what he means and speculate that he was merely indicating the character was designed to meet reader expectations. But this cannot be right because that would be even worse. He says that most people have this prejudice about disease being confined to the poor, dirty, and foreign, so if he makes Marciano poor dirty and foreign to meet expectations then he is admitting that he is reinforcing a false and insulting stereotype because his readers will expect it. If this were the right reading it would show he thinks little of his readers, has no interest in confronting their prejudices, and is ok with reinforcing them. So the only reading that makes sense is that he presents the stereotype expecting us to see it as a stereotype and to react negatively to it. In other words, to be sympathetic to Marciano because he is being badly treated just because he is poor, dirty, and foreign. That’s the manipulation. His treatment has nothing to do with who he is and everything to do with what he does (or does not do).

  14. Roger July 18, 2016 at 1:00 am

    David, in context the quote from Boyle clearly amounts to a characterization of Marciano’s point of view, not Boyle’s own opinion. Boyle begins by noting he “hope[s] to inhabit” the “points of view” of both Marciano and Rosa. Only (immediately) after providing this critical context does he make the statements you quote. I.e., when he says “Marciano contracted a disease through no fault of his own,” etc., he is describing his effort to inhabit Marciano’s point of view.

    Lest there be any doubt that this is what Boyle is doing, immediately after the language you quote, he states: “He [Marciano] doesn’t see his own culpability here (i.e., because he failed to complete the regimen to eliminate the treatable strain from his body, he is guilty of creating this new and highly potent strain). Nor does he see the rationale for his being pursued and imprisoned as if he’d willfully committed a crime.” So Boyle is stating that Marciano has “culpability” and even describes that culpability in the parenthetical. Boyle’s point is that Marciano “doesn’t see” this culpability – not that the culpability doesn’t exist. Similarly, Boyle notes that Marciano does not “see” the rationale for his being pursued. This is all about what Marciano sees and doesn’t see, not what Boyle personally believes.

    As for Treisman’s question about Boyle creating a Mexican-American agricultural worker as the story’s protagonist, I simply don’t see how you substantiate your assertion that Boyle’s response means that he wants us “to be sympathetic to Marciano because he is being badly treated just because he is poor, dirty, and foreign.” This is your conclusion, but you don’t explain how Boyle’s words lead to that conclusion. Ipse dixit aside, in the story itself, the readers take Marciano as we find him: poor, confused, ill, impulsive, and deeply flawed in (for me) a believable, human way.

  15. David July 18, 2016 at 1:29 am

    Roger, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that the statement, “Marciano contracted a disease through no fault of his own” is Boyle inhabiting Marciano’s point of view and then that “He doesn’t see his own culpability” is suddenly Boyle telling us from his (Boyle’s) point of view Marciano is culpable. Reading these words as they are literally written, the first sentence is Boyle talking about Marciano, thus giving Boyle’s point of view and the second is telling us what Marciano does or does not see, thus giving Marciano’s point of view. When Boyle said he hopes to inhabit the points of view of both Marciano and Rosa, he is talking about in the story, not in the interview. He isn’t trying to channel them in answering questions put to him (Boyle).

    Your comments about Boyle’s reply about making Marciano a Spanish-speaking, poor, Mexican-raised American are not comforting. If Boyle made the character have these attributes instead of being an English-speaking, middle-class, white American because that would make his character “out of sync with readers’ expectations” then you are saying that readers would not expect a white English American to act as Marciano does, but would accept it given that he is Spanish, Mexican and poor. That reading of what Boyle says seems to suggest he expects us to react in a racist way and so he just goes along with it.

    My suggestion is that rather than expecting us to say “makes sense that the Spanish-speaking poor Mexican guy would act like this” he expects us to say “Man, as if it were not bad enough that he is an American-born citizen who was forced to leave the country when he was a kid and so grew up not speaking English or with the advantages he might have had if he had been allowed to stay in the US, now he is sick and has health officials trying to lock him up. Poor guy.”

    I cannot see any third alternative to the two readings and of the two not only does mine seem to me more likely, it seems the far less problematic one, even though it is still troublingly manipulative.

  16. Roger July 18, 2016 at 2:35 am

    David, your first paragraph unfortunately suffers from the use of the same rigid, binary lens through which you evaluated Marciano earlier – a reader must either “sympathize” with him or “scorn” him. (That, by the way, is my characterization of your point of view; it does not reflect my own opinion, though if quoted out of context one could make it appear otherwise.) In fact, a reader can both sympathize with Marciano and scorn him, if a reader is open to seeing things from the POV of someone unlike himself. Which is what Boyle is explaining in the interview and doing in the story.

    The interview is about the story. It is a mistake to create a binary construct in which Boyle’s answers in the interview must only set forth Boyle’s own opinions and never discuss the characters’ POVs. Simply put, in the interview he says he wants to inhabit the characters’ POVs, and then in summary fashion he states what Marciano thinks. It would have been more obvious if he had said “Marciano believes” every time he characterized Marciano’s POV. But more tedious. Boyle doesn’t do tedious.

    As noted, Boyle expressly describes Marciano’s culpability in the interview. Not in every sentence, but often enough that a reader can be expected to get it. In your posts, you haven’t come to grips with Boyle’s explicit statements in the interview that Marciano is culpable and that Marciano simply “doesn’t see” his culpability. These statements eviscerate any argument that Boyle, in the interview, is agreeing with Marciano.

    As for your posited “readings” of Boyle’s response to Treisman’s question about making the character a poor Mexican-American, I’m still not seeing an actual “reading” because you (a) don’t quote or meaningfully characterize what Boyle says; and (b) don’t explain the connection between Boyle’s response and your own “reading” that Boyle is admitting to engaging in manipulation. This renders your “reading” conclusory.

  17. Trevor Berrett July 18, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    This has been a great discussion, and I want to thank Roger for sticking up for the story so eloquently. It made me consider whether I was being unfair to consider the story so ham-fisted, because I agree that Boyle is not simply presenting Marciano as someone who is being picked on. Still, I am definitely in your first sentence here, Roger. I don’t think the story is nuanced at all.

    My sense is that for you and probably other readers, the story doesn’t succeed because there is, in your view, nothing nuanced about the situation. Marciano is dreadfully wrong, and that is that. I can understand the story not working for you for that reason. For me, it works because if I put myself in Marciano’s position, which would include erasing some of my own ethical sensibilities, I can imagine feeling his frustration and can go along as a passenger on his irresponsible (and vividly rendered) ride. Put otherwise, and to borrow from your earlier post, I don’t think we are faced with a binary choice about Marciano deserving our sympathy rather than our scorn. I felt both sympathy and scorn for this character.

    For me the lack of nuance isn’t because I think Marciano is either right or wrong, though. I actually think Boyle goes overboard to present Marciano’s case as a kind of exercise in empathy and perhaps lists the complexities a bit too clearly, making them no longer any more complex than the commentary that came from the original news story. I don’t think Boyle added anything to the equation when he came in to present Marciano’s dilemma.

    Consequently, I’m more in line (I think) with Greg in thinking the story really lacks much artistic quality, if I define artistic quality as something beyond sentence structure and word choice. I don’t think the story evokes much beyond the news story. But perhaps not all stories need do this. But here I don’t think the story works because the metaphor is rather juvenile and facile, taking it from an okay story that failed to evoke to something I found quite horrendous.

  18. Sean H July 21, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    That was a spirited back and forth. This was a clunker of a story and the moralizing has little to do it for me. It’s not about whether or not Marciano is a victim or a threat (in that case he’s like most serial killers) but whether or not he’s an interesting character embroiled in an interesting plot and written with interesting language. I would say the writing is average, the character has potential but is too didactic, and the plot is actually the best part of an otherwise forgettable story. In terms of timing or suspense or piquing the reader’s curiosity, I don’t that’s where Boyle falls short. It’s more than the characters are too blatantly in service of an agenda, clearly being manipulated instead of teaching the author how to write them and thus the audience how to read them.
    For a much more enthralling story with some topical similarities, check out Steven Soderbergh’s underrated 2011 gem Contagion.

  19. Greg July 23, 2016 at 2:12 am

    Welcome Back Sean – And thanks for your thoughts and for the suggestion to re-watch “Contagion”!

  20. Ken July 24, 2016 at 2:40 am

    I didn’t read the interview with Boyle so I’ll only state my reading of the story. I think I’d agree with Roger–we see both the irresponsibility of what Marciano does yet I think many of us sympathize within anyone who might be locked up or overseen by the police–even with good reason. Perhaps I’m speaking for myself with that sympathy. This is not to say that I personally would do what we did and, of course, I think he is irresponsible. Altogether I enjoyed this as a piece of gripping suspense, but would hardly call it deep or memorable. I actually had some suspicions that were the opposite of David’s–reading this during the RNC I kept thinking this sounded like the sort of nightmare Trump was summoning up in his speeches: a virulent immigrant wreaking havoc. I doubted that this was ever Boyle’s intention, and it seems the interview furthers the impossibility of Boyle as racist, but I couldn’t help think of how some right-wing xenophobe might take comfort in this story.

  21. Greg July 25, 2016 at 12:15 am

    Excellent point Ken – Talk about unintended consequences!

    (Obama was worried about a similar thing happening to him, therefore he waited until late in his presidency to take action on immigration reform)

  22. Diana July 31, 2016 at 9:22 pm

    Can someone explain the ending to me?

  23. Ken August 1, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    Isn’t it a cruel irony? The ending that is. He’s feeling just as trapped as the “pests” he used to remove from gardens. This was the reading that seemed inadvertently Trumpish to me.

  24. William August 1, 2016 at 10:55 pm

    I’ve been away for a couple of weeks, doing pleasant things (including a week on Orcas Island with my daughter and her husband and two grandchildren), so I haven’t had time to comment. Now I’ll try to catch up. Most of the action has been on the king’s teacup, and I’ll mosey over there shortly, but first I want to make a few comments on T.C. (“Totally Confusing”) Boyle.

    I’ll start by giving my version of an answer to Diana’s question about what the ending means. (I wrote this before I read Ken’s response; my answer is basically a long-winded version of what he said.) . Earlier in the story Boyle had established the wanton cruelty of killing animals, by showing Marciano trapping then killing a raccoon. The raccoon was an innocent, guilty of simply pursing its natural existence. He had to die to preserve the rich homeowner’s safety. By showing Marciano flashing on the image of the trapped and drowning raccoon as he (Marciano) is dying, Boyle asserts an identity: the public health system has cruelly hunted and trapped and killed Marciano for the simple crime of trying to pursue his natural life. He had to die to preserve our safety. Others have already refuted this parallelism:

    David: “He is not anything like the animals Boyle tries to compare him to. They are complete innocents. Marciano is not.”

    Amen.

    Next I want to address whether Boyle is pandering to our expectations of what a person with TB would be like, reinforcing our stereotypes that persons with TB are poor, dirty and foreign. David wrote: “He is admitting that he is reinforcing a false and insulting stereotype because his readers will expect it.” Here are a few facts, which don’t address the literary questions, but can inform the discussion and provide context:

    Rates of TB in the U.S. in 2014:
    Hispanics or Latinos: 5.0 TB cases per 100,000 persons
    Whites: 0.6 TB cases per 100,000 persons
    Asians 18 TB cases per 100,000 persons
    Foreign born persons have 13x the rate of TB as those born in the U.S.

    So the “stereotype” — poor, dirty and foreign — is not false; in fact, it is not a stereotype – it is an accurate description. Unfortunately, Boyle obfuscates his intention in this regard: “We tend to view diseases like tuberculosis . . . as being confined to the poor, the dirty, the foreign, when in fact we are all one species and all equally at risk, which is why we have public-health laws in the first place.” If that isn’t the most garbled bit of question-begging . . . I think this is just Boyle being bubble-headed. If one of the documentary journalists in the magazine had written this it would be edited out and his/her contract would be cancelled.

    Third, I tried to parse what Boyle intends us to think about Marciano’s guilt or lack of it by looking at the interview. I want to emphasize that this exercise should not be necessary – we should be able to figure out the author’s stance (or neutrality) on characters from the story. In this case, though, I agree that it is muddled. As Mehbe said, there is a lack of consistency in the presentation of the main character’s understanding of his disease. Unfortunately, the interview only has contradictions (e.g.: “He understands the situation,” “He doesn’t see” “Nor does he see”) and platitudes:

    “What is vitally important to me is point of view. I want to dig into the actual and see what it’s like at its core. Each of us justifies his/her own views and actions. Sometimes, we find common ground; more often, we don’t.”

    Sounds more like sociology than literature.

    So is the story utterly without redeeming value? Roger made a determined case for the binary nature of the presentation of Marciano’s plight.

    “The story is not a polemic telling us how to feel about Marciano’s behavior. Rather, it prods us to allow room to understand, or even “sympathize with,” the point of view of a flawed character without embracing that point of view.”

    I largely agree with this line of thought, only I would emphasize the “understanding” aspect. Several years ago E.L. Doctorow wrote several short stories in which (it seemed to me) he was attempting to imagine how certain situations could come about, how people could do what looks to an observer like crazy behavior. He was attempting, I think, to get inside the mind of eccentric or dangerous people. One I remember was a farmer who had a vision then started a religion and many people came to join and then military people or police were coming to shut it down and the founder slipped away but others stayed behind. So Doctorow was trying to think himself into the mind of this person who started the commune as well as one character who stayed behind to face the impending violence. (Sorry about the vagueness, my memory is a bit weak.) Maybe Boyle is trying to do this – asking, what must it be like to be an illiterate uneducated immigrant working a low-wage job and trying to cope with a situation that you don’t really understand in a scientific or medical sense and you don’t really feel responsible for when you’re just trying to survive. Except that Boyle throws in that raccoon metaphor and all the innocent victim falling into a cruel establishment trap B.S., thus spoiling the pertinence of the theme.

    Also, Boyle bludgeons us over the head by gratuitously dragging in the raccoon/cruel trap metaphor right at the end, in a most unartistic manner. T.C. is not a subtle fellow.

    I end up agreeing with Trevor, who wrote: “Consequently, I’m more in line (I think) with Greg in thinking the story really lacks much artistic quality.”

    With Boyle, it seems, we get either sequential clones of 30-ish writing workshop students with pointless existential angst (“Night of the Satellite” – ugh) or attempts at heavy themes, which don’t work because Boyle is basically an intellectual lightweight. Conclusion: T.C. Boyle is now officially on my DNR list.

  25. Greg August 2, 2016 at 12:35 am

    Welcome Back William!

    Thank you for reading all of our comments and then adding your views. I especially appreciate you showing us that poor foreigners are indeed more likely to get TB; therefore, it is not a stereotype.

    Lastly, I love your understanding of T.C. to mean – Totally Confusing!

  26. Eric August 5, 2016 at 6:19 am

    I for one greatly enjoyed this story, in much the same way as Roger. My wife works in a public clinic and routinely brings home stories similar to, though not as horrific as, this one. The “protagonist” of this story is poor, uneducated, unambitious, incurious, and somewhat narcissistic, and like most such people he can easily rationalize destructive behavior. These kinds of people are woefully underrepresented in contemporary fiction, but there are a lot of them out there and Boyle makes an admirable (and, to me, largely successful) attempt to get inside such a person’s head, illuminating his thinking and behavior while leaving the judging to us.

  27. Eric August 5, 2016 at 6:30 am

    Btw, here is the relevant paragraph from Boyle’s NYR interview which inspired the spirited debate above:

    My sympathies lie with both characters, whose points of view I hope to inhabit in order to explore not only the dramatic possibilities of the scenario but the ethics as well. Marciano contracted a disease through no fault of his own, in the same way that most of us get a cold or the flu every winter, and yet he is criminalized as a result. He doesn’t see his own culpability here (i.e., because he failed to complete the regimen to eliminate the treatable strain from his body, he is guilty of creating this new and highly potent strain). Nor does he see the rationale for his being pursued and imprisoned as if he’d willfully committed a crime.

    My reading of it is that the second sentence is saying that Marciano has no culpability in actually getting the disease, but that the second and third sentences together say that he has some culpability in having become criminalized. YMMV, I suppose.

  28. Greg August 5, 2016 at 9:18 pm

    Thanks Eric for sharing that this story is similar to your wife’s day-to-day worklife in dealing with people like this.

    Also, your passing on the fact that your wife “routinely brings home stories…” carries this 28 comment forum full circle with David’s funny first post of a hypothetical conversation between Rosa and her hubby!

  29. Dan Madeley August 12, 2016 at 10:49 pm

    The point of view of this story is not very interesting. It’s the point of view of a twenty three year old who has been given a bad tuberculosis diagnosis and told he will have to take a regimen for six months up to two years.

    The rest of the story sort of reads like Kafka’s the trial, with the state taking various measures to curb his behavior, and ultimately incarcerate him.

    Like I said, sounds kind of like a story of modern paranoia, ubiquitous government watching, right?

    The problem is EVERYTHING the government does is completely reasonable, the problem is the main character: he’s careless about his own health and in the process puts others at risk, for no really good reason!

    The first awful thing the character did was ignore the doctor’s advice concerning a very serious health problem and potential risk to others. He’s an idiot who thinks if you start feeling better, what need for doctors, and all their advice! Then, once (how shocking) the tuberculosis comes back, he. Is tothe is highly contagious and a health risk if he doesn’t wear a mask. What does he do? He’s straight to a bar without his mask, likely infecting three people plus the bar man.

    Eventually he is arrested and incapacitated- thank goodness so the a-hole can’t I infect more people- but not before he spits on people trying to help him, in an attempt to make me sick.

    In the end he dies a pathetic, animalistic kind of death, and I think the author wants us to draw a parallel between. This guy’s doomed struggle and that of a caged raccoon he once was ordered to drown. The problem with this is, if he had just kept up with his regimen, maybe he would not been doomed!

    The main character deserves anything he gets, and there’s no interesting moral point at stake here.

  30. Greg August 15, 2016 at 10:50 pm

    I see Dan what you’re trying to say with your “no nonsense” take……I know many people in my life who would agree fully with you….nevertheless, what do you think about Roger’s posts from July 17th on empathy even though one opposes the irresponsible behaviour?

  31. Arsen Kashkashian February 27, 2017 at 12:26 am

    I guess I was one of the few people who found this story to be moving. I thought it straddled the line between having the reader feel sympathy for the twenty-three year old with T.B. who doesn’t want to be locked up, who in the ends longs for the comfort of his mother but we also feel horror at his actions of going around without a mask and spitting on people. I thought the scene in the bar was really well done on descriptive level. You could just imagine everyone else in that bar’s reaction.

    I find the narrative breadth of the stories that Boyle undertakes in style, subject and character to be pretty unique in today’s fiction. He’ll write anything from history to science fiction. He doesn’t always nail it but I always admire him for trying.

    I’d also like to say that I work in a bookstore and have met Boyle several times. He’s a person. He’s not an asshole. He travels to independent bookstores all over the country on a pretty exhausting schedule. Some times he is taciturn, other times he’s talkative. He’s amazingly well read and the last time he came through town we talked late into the night about the amazing stories and novellas of Stanley Elkin.

  32. Greg February 27, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    Thanks Arsen for sharing why you liked this story. Also, thank you for letting us inside what T.C. is really like….and finally, I envy you for working in a bookstore and getting to talk late into the night with literary authors!

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