cover image Tooth and Claw

Tooth and Claw

T. Coraghessan Boyle, . . Viking, $25.95 (284pp) ISBN 978-0-670-03435-2

The threat of imminent demise—whether self-inflicted or from an ungentle Mother Nature—hovers in Boyle's seventh collection (after the novel The Inner Circle ). Ravenous alligators make a memorable cameo in "Jubilation," in which a divorced man seeking community and stability moves into a "model" town erected in a Florida theme park (think Disney's Celebration), only to find that benign surfaces conceal dangerous depths. This theme of civilization versus wilderness also underpins the weird and wonderful "Dogology," in which a young woman's frustration with the accoutrements of the human world compels her to run—on all fours—with a pack of neighborhood dogs. "Here Comes"—one of the collection's more realistic pieces—describes the anxious circumstances of a suddenly homeless alcoholic poised to slip through the cracks for good in a Southern California town. Substance abuse figures again in "Up Against the Wall," about a young man seduced by a dissolute new crowd, while his parents' marital discord and the Vietnam War tug at the edges of his drugged-out awareness. The wired rhythm of Boyle's prose and the enormity of his imagination make this collection irresistible; with it he continues to shore up his place as one of the most distinctive, funniest—and finest—writers around. (On sale Sept. 12)