One for the Animals

At one point this blog was basically a tribute to TC Boyle- I was mentioning Tortilla Curtain on a weekly basis. The book was truly moving and I still firmly believe every Californian, if not American, should read it, as immigration continues to be such a controversial topic. This is a book that made me think. And so did the second Boyle book I got around to finishing last night, When the Killing's Done.

A quick synopsis: The main character, Alma, works for the National Park Service and is in charge of exterminating the rats of Anacapa Island and the wild pigs off Santa Cruz Island, both part of the Channel Islands (a boat ride out of Santa Barbara, California). This is being done as a result of native animals, such as foxes and birds, becoming endangered- both rats and pigs were brought by humans and interfere with the original habitat. Of course PETA and a fictional protesting group try to prevent this process, Alma's nemesis being an older, wealthier hippie named Dave Lovejoy. In the end, while I don't want to give any spoilers, Dave definitely pays for his interference. So, the question is, who should decide the fates of animals- humans or the animals themselves?

In true Boyle fashion, he's forcing me, the reader, to really examine my own ethics. Neither character is necessary likeable- Alma is all business, too rational for her own good, and a bit cold at times. Dave Lovejoy is a bit hypocritical (he's the owner of three high-end electronic stores, yet has dreads and defends nature), has a crazy temper, and goes out of his way to humiliate Alma. Both passionately believe in their causes, though, which are both centered at the idea of protecting wildlife. In essence, their hearts really are in the same place, just with competing animals.

In the past few years I've become more interested in vegetarianism and how we treat our furry/feathered/scaled friends. I cut red meat almost completely out of my diet a few months ago (I had only eaten it once or twice a month, so it wasn't hard) and for "lent" I decided to give up meat completely (still not a terrible sacrifice since I only eat in a few times a week). If both sides in the novel are trying to protect animals, who do you choose?

I definitely don't agree with Lovejoy's tactic- his group vandalized Alma's car, tried to reverse the effects of the rat poison on Anacapa, and bullied her in public. Alma, on the other hand, never really seemed to listen to her opponents. I can clearly see both sides in the debate- the side of me that gravitates towards science understands the need to step in and reverse the consequences that humans had unknowingly caused long ago. Islands overrun by rats and pigs is doing nothing to promote a healthy, diverse, stable ecosystem. On the other hand, Lovejoy has a point- nature usually has a way of controlling that sort of thing itself. It would probably take generations, but eventually natural selection would kick in. He staunchly believed that the animals should be left alone and that the island should remain untouched.

And alas, I'm torn. And this is why this novel is excellent and Boyle is a gifted writer- this won't be a book I forget about next week or next month. It's made me question myself and the ethics behind the decisions we make as humans for the sake of the environment. And it encourages people to consider both sides of all controversy, whether it be a as small as an argument with a family member, or as grand as eradicating thousands of pigs.

Read it.


  1. I've never heard of TC Boyle before. I've got a B&N gift card that's been burning a hole in my wallet. Looks like I finally know what I'm going to spend it on!*