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Thoughts on Reading The Silence by T.C. Boyle

By on Jan 25, 2014 in Short Story Reviews | 0 comments

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The Silence by T. C. Boyle can be read at

I loved this story. I liked the way he broke up the sections and named each part. I like the exuberance and fluidity of his prose, the quickness of it as if he were dancing a comic jig with language.  Adjectives others have used to describe him include exuberant, like I said, and, in addition, lyrical, manic, and bawdy. He is likened to John Barth, one of my favorites although I read that Boyle didn’t know what to make out of Barth. Silly. He should. There is a likeness. They seem to stem from the same comic mother. He said in an interview “I think Garcia-Marquez is one of the best writers alive.” I think the same of Garcia-Marquez. Could it be that this guy gets it? Good. I’m so tired of that bored look when I mention this wonderful of all writers. There’s a chance we can get along, he and I. He’s not confused by magic and fairytales.

I picture him as a person who writes effortlessly, who has superb prose exploding from his pen like kernels in a movie popcorn machine. He just turns it out and makes everyone jealous. It’s easy for him. His images are new and fresh, show stoppers really. Images and phases that especially stood out for me were: “the trancing suck of the desert sun”, p 1;”legs-that might as well have been deboned for all the stability they offered him”, p 1; Karuna’s hair “drew the light and held it, p 1; “Her sweat was like body paint”, p 1; “shooting down the adobe surface as if on a hurricane wind”, p 3,;”robes lay about them like ripples on water”, p 3; “turning so gradually he could have been a tree growing toward the light”, p 5; “thermal weave fit her like new skin”, p 5; “color of midnight in a coal mine”, p6; “flurry of leaping limbs”, p 6 and “their wide straw hats framing their skulls like halos”, p 9.

I see him as unusual because he is an extrovert and writers are usually introverts.  He loves to speak, to give interviews. He’s an odd bird.

What is he trying to do with his writing? What is his purpose? He says, “To engage your humor and your emotions, that’s quite a trick. I’d like to think that I’m able to do that, to keep the reader off balance – is this the universe of the comedy or the tragedy? or some unsettling admixture of the two? – to go beyond mere satire into something more emotionally devastating, and gratifying. If that ain’t art, I don’t know what is.” I think it must be art and he made a good job of it with this story. He wants to learn about life. He said somewhere that when he wants to learn something he writes about it. I think he wanted to learn about Buddhism so he wrote The Silence.


Symbols in the story are important and rampant.


Dragonfly – There is a myth that they were once dragons. There are other reptile references. “Hooray, Jabba, jabba, the rattlesnake, the Tarantula. The dragonfly symbolizes maturity and a depth of character. It symbolized change and a change in perspective of self realization, the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and understanding of the deeper meaning in life. It’s also the symbol for heroin.  A Broom Dragonfly is a hallucinogenic drug. They are actually very common in the desert. This was probably a flame dragonfly. They look metallic. Or it could have been a Firelight dragonfly. He has the dragonfly at the beginning and he ends with one. He questions in the beginning. Is this a sign? Good question.

Joke. It only yurts when I laugh. A yurt has a circular roof like the spokes of a wheel.

Papa. Actions that bear positive results and elevate a person are called punya. Actions that lead to a negative fruit and degrade a person are called papa. It’s kind of an imaginary life ledger.

Bodhisattva path. A Bodhisattva is anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated a wish for all people to reach Buddha. From my experience the Bodhisattva is a beautiful Goddess who appears in a lot of Asian myth. She is also known as Guanyin. There are Buddhist and Christian observers who have commented on the similarity between Guanyin and the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is interesting to me because it is another link in my search for the Goddess. There are many who feel that the Mother Goddess was transformed into holy figures such as Guanyin, the Bodhisattva and the Blessed Virgin Mary. There are images of both holding a baby Madonna style. Interesting aside.

Geshe Tibetan academic degree for monks and nuns

Prayer wheel is a cylindrical wheel on a spindle made from metal, wood, stone, leather or coarse cotton. Traditionally, the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is written in Sanskrit on the outside of the wheel.
The Eight-Fold Path

I. The Way to the End of Suffering
II. Right View
III. Right Intentions
IV. Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood
V. Right Effort
VI. Right Mindfulness
VII. Right Concentration
VIII. The Development of Wisdom

Guardianship Snake     Serpents are represented as potent guardians of temples and other sacred spaces. This connection may be grounded in the observation that when threatened, some snakes (such as rattlesnakes or cobras) frequently hold and defend their ground, first resorting to threatening display and then fighting, rather than retreat. Thus, they are natural guardians of treasures or sacred sites, which cannot easily be moved out of harm’s way.
At Angkor in Cambodia, numerous stone sculptures present hooded multi-headed nāgas (cobras) as guardians of temples or other premises. A favorite motif of Angkorean sculptors from approximately the 12th century CE onward was that of the Buddha, sitting in the position of meditation, his weight supported by the coils of a multi-headed naga that also uses its flared hood to shield him from above. This motif recalls the story of the Buddha and the serpent king, Mucalinda: as the Buddha sat beneath a tree engrossed in meditation, Mucalinda came up from the roots of the tree to shield the Buddha from a tempest that was just beginning to arise.
Hooray! Jabba-jabba-jabba. The phrase “Hooray! Jabba-jabba-jabba!” is in the first paragraph and is repeated near the end when Karuna is bitten by the snake. (See page 7.)  Jabba might be the half reptile/half Cheshire cat character from Star Wars. He had wisdom. Is this where this comes from? In the Urban dictionary Jabba-jabba is talk that is excessive and overly erudite. What? What is it all about?

Fire The Ādittapariyāya Sutta (Pali, “Fire Sermon Discourse”), sometimes referred to simply as the Āditta Sutta, is a discourse from the Pali Canon, popularly known as the Fire Sermon. In this discourse, the Buddha preaches about achieving liberation from suffering through detachment from the five senses and mind.

Boat There is a parable about a ferryboat that is supposed to represent our spiritual journey toward enlightenment – and the ferryboat is the particular religious doctrine which aids us on that journey. The point of the parable is supposed to be that once we have outgrown the doctrine, we can leave it behind and move forward. The worst thing that could happen is for the ferryboat to begin circling in the middle of the river and for the passengers to think that they were still making progress.
Therefore Row, row, row your boat – Om.

My feelings.  Attachment to his girl friend. I don’t think he makes any decisions about what has happened. To me, he should have learned a lesson. He went too far. He didn’t plan for health care. He didn’t take care of those who were his charge specifically the children and Karuna. To me, he a stupid bad man and one we should stay away from. He a man who makes “bad decisions.” In my personal sense of right and wrong, how I affect others figures greatly. Those assigned to me, which include relatives and close friends are my responsibility. I should help, keep them healthy physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually but only as a guide. There my responsibility ends. If they think differently that’s okay. If they don’t trust me, that’s okay. That’s not my responsibility. My responsibility is only to try. They are on their own path, in their own boat, have their own prayer wheel and I’m not to interfere. It’s not for me to make decisions for them. This guy’s decisions did affect others and did so negatively. He’s not on his own. I’m very judgmental about him. Kick him in his skinny butt, I say. He got it wrong. Men in India raise a family, take care of their loved ones and go out to live on the land, to live by charity, to learn but not until they have taken care of their responsibilities.
I like the divisions of the story. It helps to clarify and makes his architecture obvious and he wants it obvious for the Buddhist angle. He says he writes to learn and here he learned about Buddhism. There is a lot of humor, sort of tongue in cheek stuff about the robes flowing outward. In the end, “It had no message. . .” means that life is transitory. It doesn’t last long. “When we have shuffled off this mortal coil” and are gone. The special meanings he was looking for aren’t there. Life is an illusion.
He wasn’t given wisdom by the snake. His wife was bitten. They were on the wrong path. It is the dualism of the snake, the snake as healer, as wisdom or as danger. The snake of Adam and Eve, the snake of the Goddess, the snake of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva. The snake stands for duality.


I think everyone should read Monkey: A Folk Novel of China by Wu Ch´eng- 16th century novel. This doesn’t have much to do with Boyle’s story. I just think everyone needs to learn this bit of happy myth.

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