Cover has a blue sky background, and a palm tree superimposed over a fire. Text says "BLUE SKIES T.C. BOYLE A NOVEL"

Climate Apocalypse Now

BLUE SKIES rating: 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐.

In BLUE SKIES, out today, May 16, 2023 (Liverlight/W.W. Norton), T.C. Boyle gives us the blackest satire of social media influencer culture you can imagine, set in a near-future climate dystopia.

As you can tell from the cover, California is on fire. Florida has the opposite problem: it’s drowning. The main character, Cat, is always on the hunt for a shtick that will make her go viral on social media. Cat sees a Burmese python in a window and decides to wear it like a feather boa for fashion cachet. At some point thereafter, I knew exactly what was going to happen to Cat and had goose pimples for several chapters. No spoilers, but Boyle makes sure you will never forget this book.

Disclamer: Thanks to Edelweiss Plus/Above the Treeline and W. W. Norton for sending this book to me for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Cat’s oddball family is barely clinging to hope among the climate chaos, and Cat’s social media obsession is only one unhealthy coping mechanism among many in the family. This is a propulsive satire that keeps the reader in its grip.

I’ve been in love with “the artist formerly known as T. Coraghessan Boyle” since college, when I was assigned his jaw-dropping short story collection GREASY LAKE (1985). BLUE SKIES is my 18th Boyle book in 36 years. He’s all about nature red in tooth and claw. One thing you might not know about Boyle is that he studied Victorian literature, which explains a lot. Boyle is quite Dickensian, as Barbara Kingsolver has pointed out. She is now the unchallenged modern Dickens with DEMON COPPERHEAD, my favorite book of 2022.1Does your public library offer the hoopla app? You may be able to read or listen to DEMON COPPERHEAD with just your library card. HarperCollins plays nicely with hoopla.

In a tweet, I once mentioned that Boyle was my favorite living writer. Boyle pointed out that I qualified the compliment with “living” and I replied, “Well, you’re no Eudora Welty.” He agreed.

BLUE SKIES is a masterclass in blended narration, which is so often clunky in novels. I often trip over prose in which the author just isn’t talented enough to do leaps in time or switches or perspective without confusing or jarring the reader. Boyle blends first and third person narration seamlessly.

As a Boyle veteran I was expecting a ray of love and hope, as in, say, DROP CITY (2003, my favorite Boyle novel) or WATER MUSIC (1981). I got it, like a sun in a finally smoke-free, raincloud-free sky, and clutched my Kindle to my chest and smiled.

Reading context:

Boyle’s written eco-fiction (also dubbed cli-fi) before. I loved A FRIEND OF THE EARTH (2000), which definitely picks up the untamed nature thread. THE TERRANAUTS (2017) is another example of Boyle’s eco-fiction, set in the nineties in an off-earth colony. I recommend both books, as I love Boyle’s combination of black humor and social commentary, but I preferred A FRIEND OF THE EARTH, set in 2025!

ORYX AND CRAKE (2003), which kicks off the MaddAddam trilogy by Margaret Atwood, is a classic of eco-fiction and one of my favorites.

THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy (2006) is the ultimate tale of devoted single parenthood an a bleak post-apocalyptic landscape. It’s not clear what caused the mass extinction that precedes the events of the book, but climate apocalypse is a likely culprit when it’s read through a modern lens. When I think of THE ROAD, I think of looking down at the face of a small person who depends upon me for survival, trying hard to be brave for his sake.

A more recent post-climate-dystopia novel is TRASHLANDS (2021) by Alison Stine, which I enjoyed because it’s Appalachian and eerily realistic, and not just because Appalachia has gotten the shaft throughout American history, and here we are, mining again. The most poignant part is how parents name their children after vanished things–like Autumn. Oof.

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