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“Chicxulb” by T. Coraghessan Boyle (thoughts)

February 23, 2009

100 Shots of ShortI’m publishing the review on Monday to participate in John’s Short Story Monday. I read “Chicxulb” by T. Coraghessan Boyle because Nymeth has it listed as one of her favourite short stories, and she and I have similar taste. ;) And let me tell you, this is an incredible story. Check out the opening line:

My daughter is walking along the roadside late at night—too late, really, for a seventeen-year-old to be out alone, even in a town as safe as this—and it is raining, the first rain of the season, the streets slick with a fine immiscible glaze of water and petrochemicals, so that even a driver in full possession of her faculties, a driver who hadn’t consumed two apple Martinis and three glasses of Hitching Post pinot noir before she got behind the wheel of her car, would have trouble keeping the thing out of the gutters and the shrubbery, off the sidewalk and the highway median, for Christ’s sake.

It immediately tells the reader what’s going on, sets a mood of foreboding, and tells us something about the narrator. Not to mention, it’s just a wonderfully constructed sentence.

After that hint, though, the narrator pulls back to talk instead about meteors. There’s a shout-out to St. Petersburg, one of my very favourite cities, when he discusses the last big meteor hit, one hundred years ago, in Siberia:

There was a detonation—a flash, a thunderclap—with the combustive power of eight hundred Hiroshima bombs. Thirty miles away, reindeer in their loping herds were struck dead by the blast wave, and the clothes of a hunter another thirty miles beyond that burst into flame even as he was poleaxed to the ground. Seven hundred square miles of Siberian forest were levelled in an instant. If the meteor had struck just five hours later, it would have exploded over St. Petersburg and annihilated every living thing in that glorious, baroque city. And this was only a rock. And it was only sixty yards across.

The rest of the story alternates between the narrator telling us more about what happened that night with his daughter and discussing meteors. The title comes from the meteor that crashed into the Yucatan and killed the dinosaurs, known as Chicxulb.

I’m not going to talk more about it, because the way Boyle ratchets up the tension really needs to be read in context, but you need to go read this story now. I promise-it’s so good! And it’s not that long either. So what are you waiting for?

Notable Passage
So what does it matter? What does anything matter? We are powerless. We are bereft. And the gods—all the gods of all the ages combined—are nothing but a rumor.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2009 10:28 am

    I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that you actually read the stories I list :D And that you like them too! This one really is incredible. The only “problem” is that I cried for a good 10 minutes when I finished it. This is the only thing I’ve read by Boyle, but I really want to try his novels. Dewey recommended The Tortilla Curtain to me once, and she’d never steer us wrong, so I’ll have to pick it up sometime.

  2. February 23, 2009 10:32 am

    You might have warned me that this story was going to leave me a trembling mess. And I should have listened a little better when you did warn me how good it was. I put the kettle on for tea before I started reading…and even though I knew my water was ready, I couldn’t tear myself away from the story. So yeah, it was so good I nearly burned the house down.

  3. February 23, 2009 12:27 pm

    Okay, okay, I’m convinced. I’ve bookmarked this one to read later.

  4. February 23, 2009 1:07 pm

    For some reason I’ve always been put off by this author. Maybe a short story as an introductions. Sounds like this is a good one.

  5. February 23, 2009 2:10 pm

    Will read this tonight. Love T. C. Boyle whose energy as a writer leaves me mentally charged. Sounds silly but I always think of him as the king of the comma, extending the thought from one phrase to another as if his thought processes are endless and could land anywhere before the inevitable period. Nice post!

  6. February 23, 2009 2:24 pm

    Oh my. That was powerful. I am always fascinated at how a good writer creates powerful emotion without creating melodrama.

  7. February 23, 2009 4:10 pm

    I will have to read this one…Boyle is a master storyteller:)

  8. February 23, 2009 4:21 pm

    I love T.C. Boyle. I’m the opposite of Nymeth, though–I’ve only read his short stories. :)

  9. February 23, 2009 4:29 pm

    Okay, okay, I’ll read it! You had me at “immiscible.” (which i am now going to look up). I like Boyle tremendously; this is a great review. Thanks!

  10. February 23, 2009 4:57 pm

    Nymeth, of course I read the stories you list! :D I totally cried too, lol-but I didn’t want to say that, because I didn’t want to talk a ton about the ending. I’ll have to try The Tortilla Curtain too. God, I miss Dewey.

    Debi, I couldn’t think of a way to warn people without giving too much away! Your last line had me laughing hysterically though.

    John, I hope you enjoy it!

    CB, I’ve never heard of him before.

    Frances, like I just said, I’ve never heard of him before. I can definitely see him as king of the comma, though, if this story is representative! :)

    Janet, wasn’t it powerful? I think the intersplicing of the two stories really helps.

    Book Psmith, I feel so silly at this point for not having heard of Boyle before. It seems like everyone else has!

    Priscilla, Nymeth’s like me-she’s only read this short story. :)

    DS, don’t you love learning random new words? It’s one of my favourite things about English. :D

  11. February 23, 2009 7:30 pm

    This sounds really intriguing, and like a story I have to read. And I’m so glad it’s available online! That makes reading it all the easier! I’ve never read any T.C. Boyle before (I think the name rings a bell, but I can’t place it), so I’m excited to give this a whirl (probably tomorrow when things lull during the day)!

  12. February 24, 2009 9:25 am

    You’ve reminded me how good TC Boyle is! I’ve only read Water Music, years and years ago, but I still have the battered paperback and remember how much I enjoyed the story…now I’ll have to check out his short stories too :-)

  13. February 24, 2009 1:15 pm

    Wow! That’s the kind of story that is so intense it gives you goose bumps. Thank you for recommending it.

  14. February 24, 2009 9:06 pm

    Steph, I hope you get to read it soon!

    Logophile, all of you people who have heard of Boyle!! lol I thought he was some random, obscure writer. (Who just happens to be published by The New Yorker…)

    Joseph, I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

  15. alirambles permalink
    February 24, 2009 10:33 pm


    Thanks so much for the link, Eva. Incredible story. My favorite segment: I don’t bother with shoes—there are no shoes, shoes do not exist—and my shirt hangs limply from my shoulders, misbuttoned, sagging, tails hanging loose, and we’re in the car now and the driver’s-side wiper is beating out of synch and the night closing on us like a fist.
    Shoes do not exist. I love that.

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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