Skip to content

“It’s in the blood, Walter. It’s in the bones”

T. C. Boyle’s ‘World’s End’ and the Burden of the Past

Peter Freese

Pages 45 - 71


T. C. Boyle’s third novel ‘World’s End’ (1987) is an accomplished historiographical metafiction whose many-stranded plot unfolds the history of two Dutch immigrant families and the indigenous Kitchawanks in the Hudson Valley in the years between 1663 and 1694 and again in 1968/69. This essay investigates how Boyle uses the actual Peekskill Riots of 1949 as the starting point for a “pastless” would-be hippie’s search for his father and how he embeds this quest in a convoluted chain of events whose extensive timescale of three hundred years is offset by the spatial limitations of a narrowly circumscribed region. The essay then shows how Boyle combines historical accuracy based on personal experience and extensive research with flights of magical inventiveness and how he uses the regional superstition of the Dunderberg Imp as well as recurring intertextual references to the tales of Washington Irving to conflate the real and the magical in the fashion of his admired model Gabriel García Márquez. The essay then demonstrates how Boyle employs eating aberrations from cannibalism and terraphagia to binge eating and starvation to create surprising links between colonial and present events, and how he uses the iterative motif of betrayal to develop a deterministic understanding of history. The essay concludes that Boyle’s idiosyncratic style, which is full of humorous comparisons, unexpected images and extravagant metaphors, is not only used for the satirical unmasking of human pretensions and social aberrations but also for the gradual unfolding of a bleakly pessimistic version of the New World’s past and present and a convincing rejection of the promise of the American Dream.


Export Citation