The standard opening for a post like this would usually be something along the lines of:
"I used to like TC Boyle. His writing was…"
But I have to stop myself right there, because the truth is, there’s something about his writing that has always put me off. Not in a "bad writer" sort of way. Not in that sense. It’s nothing I can put my finger on, not in any tangible way really, and I do understand that’s no help to anyone at all.
But maybe this will help. Browsing through Robert Birnbaum’s interview archives over at Identity Theory. I came across this section in an interview Birnbaum did with Boyle in 2003:
RB: I always think of LA as a crime-writer central.
TCB: There are a lot.
RB: Besides you, I can’t think of a literary fiction writer in LA.
TCB: There are a lot. I’m not going to mention them. I agree with you as far as genre writers.
RB: Why not? You may forget some? (Laughs)
TCB: That’s exactly right. Where I live now in Santa Barbara it’s mainly genre writers. Almost all, because no one else can afford to live there. I’m just lucky that I am the literary writer who can afford it. (Laughs) They sell a hundred books for every one I sell. I have something that they don’t have, which they crave. Which is respect. But on the other hand, they never get reviewed or rarely, and they never get attacked. So they can just make their millions and be happy.
RB: You don’t think that’s changing?
TCB: No, it’s not.
RB: People still try to break the walls down. Every year there is one other guy who writes in a genre but is supposed to be more than that.
TCB: Well that’s good. Hallelujah. I don’t want to diss any writers, we are all in it together, but I’m a not a genre fiction guy. I don’t read it, don’t like it, don’t think about it. I have never read any science fiction, never read any detective novels, thrillers. I am just not interested in them because they are conventional. That’s why people like them. They want the same thing, the same characters. Great writing to me is, you open the book and you are surprised each time out. That’s what I want to do. That’s literature. Genre writing is limited not only by the fact that it is a genre and so that are certain expectations that have to be fulfilled. Like filling in the blanks. But also, the writing isn’t usually as good as it is in literary fiction. And I need to read something that is as good or better than I can do or it doesn’t interest me.
RB: That would be a high standard.
TCB: Yeah that’s right. Well, there are a lot of great books to read. If human life lasted ten thousand years, I couldn’t get through the books I want to know about. So why waste my time? It’s thrilling t o read something that is a literary book that is great. Much more than reading some whodunnit or thriller. They are so standard. I have no objection to going to movies to see a thriller or a SCI fi movie or something. Two hours, my mind goes numb I’m having fun. I love it. It’s great. But I am not going to waste my time reading a pulp book when I could be reading great stuff.
Huh. That about says it all, doesn’t it?