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Review: San Miguel by T.C. Boyle

Posted by bethg on

San Miguel book coverPrepare yourself for a short ocean voyage from Santa Barbara, CA to the island of San Miguel, the westernmost of the Channel Islands. If the voyage feels familiar, it’s because author T.C. Boyle loves these islands and visited Anacapa Island in his last book, When the Killing’s Done.

His newest book, San Miguel, has the same spirit as his previous work, but it is not as plot-driven. It depends mostly on three strong female characters: Marantha Waters, her adopted daughter Edith and Elise Lester.

It was the late 19th century , and Marantha Waters did not enjoy good health. Her husband Will, a Civil War veteran, thought the fresh air of an island sheep ranch would be just the thing. Unfortunately, the sense of isolation, the relentless wind, sand and the ever-present sheep did not improve her health. Although Marantha had kitchen help, life on the island was still very hard on her, and she relied on her adopted daughter Edith.

As Edith grows, she longs to leave the island and her over-bearing stepfather, but escape is not easy. The author doesn’t spend much time on Edith’s fate, and I felt I wanted more from this story line.

We then skip to 1930 when another family arrives to work the ranch. Elise, age 38, and her husband Herbie have high hopes but soon experience the privations of the previous families. Mutton is always on the menu.

The story becomes a day by day journal of their existence, replete with all that nature can throw at them and a complete sense of seclusion. Actually, Elise becomes adept at making a life for her family which grew with the birth of two daughters.

When World War II began, the Pacific coast was not quite as safe as it used to be, provision delivery was sporadic and everyone was on edge.

Since anything written by T.C.Boyle is better than most anything I’ve recently read, I can forgive the unevenness of the story.  Although it goes in spurts and starts, I never lost interest.

I encourage readers to give T.C. Boyle a chance. He’s so worth it.

I give the book 3 7/8 California dreams.

Happy reading from Beverly!

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