Greasy Lake and Other Stories Summary

T.C. Boyle

Greasy Lake and Other Stories

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Greasy Lake and Other Stories Summary

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Greasy Lake and Other Stories is a 1985 short story collection by American author T.C. Boyle. The stories in the volume are set in America during the 1960s, and are centered on the Cold War, in particular, the fears relating to a nuclear holocaust. While the characters vary in each story, the themes in the book remain consistent. The majority of the stories center around a specific group of Americans, ranging from blue-collar teenagers to middle-class married professionals, trying to find their way in the tumultuous times. Other stories deal with the other side of the cold war, looking at Eisenhower’s relationship with his rival leader’s wife, or the struggles of a communist revolutionary in Russia. Boyle’s main goal is to portray the everyday absurdity of life in the Cold War era, as well as the dividing values that keep the two countries from understanding each other. Critically acclaimed upon its release, Greasy Lake and Other Stories was praised for its vivid characters and detailed attention to other cultures. “Greasy Lake,” the first story in the collection, was made into a short film in 1988 starring James Spader and Eric Stoltz. It is believed to be the inspiration behind Bruce Springsteen’s song “Spirit in the Night.”

Greasy Lake and Other Stories is an anthology consisting of fifteen stories. The opening and most famous story, “Greasy Lake,” centers around a trio of boys—privileged Digby, dangerous Jeff, and the unnamed narrator, who wants to be seen as a bad boy, as they engage in low-level delinquent behavior in their titular town. “Caviar” is a dark tale about a blue-collar American couple struggling with infertility that is pulled into a dangerous scheme by their fertility doctor. “Ike and Nina” is a tale about the supposed secret love affair between President Eisenhower and Soviet first lady Nina Khrushcheva. A darkly ironic tale, “On for the Long Haul” is about a suburban family fearing the coming apocalypse and going to increasingly extreme measures to protect themselves if the bomb is dropped. “The Hector Quesadilla Story” focuses on an aging ballplayer stuck in time, reliving his old glory and refusing to acknowledge his age. In “Whales Weep,” a whale-watcher’s discovery of the beauty in nature leads him to an impulsive and ultimately tragic act. A political satire, “The New Moon Party” is about a struggling political candidate so determined to get elected that he promises to build a second moon in the sky—which catches the public’s favor.

“Not a Leg to Stand On” is about a senile, one-legged man who, upon taking up residence in a house of drunks and thieves, finds himself oddly at home. The darker tale “Stones in My Passway, Hellhound on my Trail” focuses on the last gig of the legendary blues singer Robert Johnson, a Depression-era figure whose early and mysterious death remains a subject of debate to this day. A more comic tale, “All Shook Up” tells of an Elvis impersonator whose terrible performances drive his wife—with their infant—into the arms of a neighbor who does not expect them to stay. “A Bird in the Hand” looks at a young boy who finds a bird, only to turn on the wild creature once he realizes that it is injured. “Two Ships” is the story of two childhood friends who grow up and grow apart, with one becoming a wealthy suburbanite and the other a Marxist radical. “Rupert Beersley and the Beggar of the Sivan’s-Hoota” is an outlier in the book, a fable-like tale set in the past in a remote, fictional Indian province. The book ends with “The Overcoat II,” a story set in Communist Russia and focused on a hard-nosed Communist revolutionary worker who is looking to buy a good-quality overcoat. However, his purchase turns out to be a black-market sale, and he finds himself pursued by the law. The respect he sought is turned against him in an iconic twist.

Thomas Coraghessan Boyle, better known as T.C. Boyle, is an American novelist and short story writer. Writing since the 1970s, he has published fourteen novels and more than one hundred short stories. He is best known for his third novel, Worlds End, which chronicles three hundred years in upstate New York and was the 1998 winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award. All of his novels take place in different time periods, with the earliest taking place in the late 17th century, and the most modern taking place in the present day—with A Friend of the Earth also having segments taking place in 2025. Widely acclaimed for his surreal dark comedy and incisive commentaries on modern life, he is a Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California, and his fourth novel, The Road to Wellville (based on the founding of Kellogg’s Cereal), was adapted into a major motion picture.