T.C. Boyles fiction avoids simple binary distinctions, searching for uneasy truths in highly polarized situations. The approach has given previous works like 1995s examination of immigration and privilege The Tortilla Curtain a rare sense of nuance. In his latest novel, When the Killings Done, Boyle considers the differing kinds of environmental conservation and the eternal divide between idealists and pragmatists. Boyle pits animal rights activist Dave La Joy against National Park Service conservationist Alma Boyd Takesue and her efforts to eliminate non-native species on Santa Barbaras Channel Islands. When the Killings Done is an examination of what we prioritize and what were willing to sacrifice, asking whether the preservation of native climates is sound environmental policy or wholesale slaughter. Out of this seemingly intractable debate, Boyle wrings the momentum of a potboiler. He casts a critical eye at both sides, though his well-wrought, complex characterizations demonstrate a deep well of humanism. La Joy and Takesue are more similar than either would like to admit, despite their wildly different methods, and each is capable of hypocrisies and weaknesses no matter what moral high ground they might presume. This appreciation for moral complexity is Boyles strongest asset, and When the Killings Done is a probing narrative that reaches for wit and insight rather than righteous moralizing.
Wed., March 9, 7 p.m., 2011