T.C. Boyle returns to California's barren, sea-sprayed Channel Islands--the setting of 2011's When the Killing's Done--in San Miguel, a novel that finds Boyle on his strongest turf: meticulously reimagining real historical lives through luxuriant prose, delivering full and vibrant characters in stories that gently crescendo into heartbreak and resolution. San Miguel is written so beautifully and is so word-perfectly exquisite, in fact, that it may be his most satisfying novel to date.
Inspired by the real-life experiences of two families who, in the late 1800s and 1930s, respectively, attempted to make a go of sheep farming on San Miguel, Boyle delves into the lives of three women for whom the island functions as both liberator and imprisoner. One is a consumptive wife who watches with sadness and alarm as she realizes her family is already planning for life without her; another, a teenage girl whose adolescent angst is amplified by the confines and wildness of the island; finally, a late-to-love newlywed whose ecstatic embrace of the island as idyllic love nest fades as her husband's mercurial moods intensify.
Each of these lives is beautifully and respectfully resurrected in Boyle's careful, elegant prose. And though Boyle's San Miguel is a harsh and lonely place, San Miguel is such an inviting and absorbing novel readers will be sorry to leave it. --Cherie Ann Parker, freelance journalist and book critic