Once one breaks through the massively over-written introduction to this tale of ecologists v. animal rights activists, one is plunged into a story with few, if any likeable characters battling it out over ideology. What is most fascinating about this is that despite the lack of engagement I felt for any of the major characters in the book, Boyle managed to keep me reading.
The first chapter or so is so grotesquely overwritten as to offer a fairly high barrier to even the interested reader. But charge through it--there isn't so much given there that you'll miss a great deal if you skim. You'll learn about the rats on Anacapa and you'll get a kind of insight into the other book-end of the story. I dare say no more because while there is something germane here at the beginning that leads to an ending that requires some thinking-through, it would be too much to make my point "above the break" as it were.
T.C. Boyle's story traces the work of an ecologist seeking to restore the primal/pristine environment of the Northern Channel Islands off the coast of California. In opposition to this biologist and her colleagues is a small group of very fringy animal-rights activists--a broad spectrum of vegans to ovo-lacto-piscine vegetarians. The ecologists seeks to reestablish balance on the islands through a series of slaughters and capture and repatriation programs.
In the course of the novel Mr. Boyle manages to thoroughly undermine the dogmatic positions on both sides. As one begins to understand the ecologists' scheme, one wonders whether the killing's ever done. On the other hand, with the animal rights activists, the focus is not so much on the trees, but on the veins of the leaves of the topmost branches of the trees to the detriment of everything and everyone else.
There are some light and amusing moments as the book progresses, but overall, it is a dank and somewhat downbeat assessment of the agenda-driven human who acts so much out of a core belief that is never examined that one is left to wonder how much of a person surrounds this dogma.
I won't say that the story is riveting--it isn't. I had to force my way through most of the book, but oddly, I did end up liking it overall. While I wouldn't rank it as one of the more memorable books I've read in recent days, it was thought provoking and engendered a long and thoughtful discussion among members of the book group--something I can't really say for many of the books we have read.