T.C. BOYLE @ STANFORD: the power of spoken words

“Stories need to be performed out loud” spoke T.C Boyle as he stood at the podium looking majestic in a yellow blazer that glowed in the dimness of the room in front of a packed house.

TC BoyleT.C Boyle came to speak at Cemex Auditorium at Stanford on May 6th as part of the Lane Lecture Series hosted by the Creative Writing Department. The series, free of charge, has been around for over thirty years and has invited great contemporary writers to the Stanford Campus. The audience was full of who’s who of Stanford Literary Arts with the likes of Adam Johnson, Tobias Wolf, and Scott Hutchins in attendance.

Tobias Wolf introduced Boyle by calling himself an admirer and a true fan of his prolific work that consists of fourteen novels and ten short story collections. He reminded the audience of the numerous awards Boyle has been bestowed upon and mentioned how his work has an indelible presence in our literature.

T.C Boyle got on stage and before beginning to read his short story reminisced about being a slow reader as a child. To overcome his disability his mother started to read aloud to him.  This early experience led him to realize the power of the spoken word and the joy of performing stories aloud.

San Miguel

He read “The Lie”, that will be included in his upcoming short story collection due this fall. It is written in first person narrative and this technique allowed Boyle to play the part of the narrator of the story. Then Boyle took the audience into a trance of his storytelling magic.

The piece is about the repercussions of an unappreciated job. To escape from the drudgery and monotony of daily work the protagonist starts telling lies to his boss to take days off. At one point the narrator remarks: “The day was mine and I wanted to fill it”. But as time passed the pleasures started to diminish. The enormity of the lie takes a toll on him and the situation gets out of hand. In the end he just wishes to escape and find a stranger to confess.

Boyle’s voice never once flinched or cracked. He performed the piece magnificently like an ancient storyteller. The story was dark yet hilarious; the sentences concise yet visual: “The toilet flushed. Overhead light flicked on”. Boyle paused at the right moments, speeded up when needed, and changed his tone to the character’s demeanor. The story kept the audience at the edge of their seats at they gushed at the lies conceived by the narrator, twitched at the consequences of his actions, and laughed out loud at the absurd situations he put himself into.  The story ended with a thundering applause that Boyle took graciously. Watch an interview with Boyle in which he talks about live performance and the nature of art:

FyzaFyza Parvis is a bohemian bibliophile who writes software by day and by night reads grotesque deranged modernist prose with intellectual and spiritual depth. She loves living in the Bay Area and covering its Literary Scene.