Greasy Lake


T. Coraghessan Boyle

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Greasy Lake Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on T. Coraghessan Boyle's Greasy Lake. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of T. Coraghessan Boyle

Raised in Westchester County, New York in the 1960s, T.C. Boyle weathered a rebellious youth (he describes his younger self as “a maniacal, crazy driver [and] a punk pure and simple) and a drug-addled early adulthood before landing at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he studied with American masters of the short story John Cheever and Raymond Carver. Inspired by writers of the grotesque and the fantastic such as Gabriel Garcia Márquez and Flannery O’Connor, Boyle’s work melds satire and dark comedy, moral inquiry, and observations on humanity’s role in the destruction of nature. The author of sixteen novels and eleven short story collections, Boyle’s starry career spans four decades. He has won awards from the PEN/Faulkner Foundation, the O. Henry Prize, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He is currently a Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California.
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Historical Context of Greasy Lake

A child of the 1960s, T.C. Boyle is a member of the Baby Boomer generation. “Greasy Lake” explores the tensions that grew out of the prosperity of the period, as well as the failures of the American dream despite the appearance of boundless opportunity and great fortune. The narrator and his friends think it is cool to be “bad”—context clues within the story tell the reader that these boys are financially comfortable and middle-class, but they reject their cushy position in life in favor of seeking thrills and danger in places like Greasy Lake. They’re tourists in the land of “badness,” just as were many members of the counter-culture of the sixties and seventies.

Other Books Related to Greasy Lake

T.C. Boyle was inspired during his time at the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop by the work of mentors like John Cheever (“the Chekhov of the suburbs”), John Irving, and Raymond Carver. From these teachers, the authors of acclaimed works such as Bullet Park, The World According to Garp, and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Boyle inherited an interest in writing dark humor, “dirty realism,” and stories that investigated the failure of the American dream. Boyle’s work is often described as lush and “maximalist,” where the work of Carver and Cheever pioneered a “minimalist” writing aesthetic. Boyle’s rich language and highly imaginative plots have roots in the work of Thomas Pynchon (Gravity’s Rainbow), Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist, Great Expectations), and even noted American satirist Mark Twain (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn).
Key Facts about Greasy Lake
  • Full Title: Greasy Lake
  • When Written: Early 1980s
  • When Published: 1985, as the title story of the collection Greasy Lake and Other Stories
  • Literary Period: Postmodernist
  • Genre: Literary fiction; short fiction; realism; Americana
  • Setting: New York State
  • Climax: After brawling with a “bad character” on a visit to Greasy Lake, the unnamed narrator, hiding at the lake’s edge finds a dead body.
  • Antagonist: “The Bad Character;” industry; stasis
  • Point of View: First person

Extra Credit for Greasy Lake

Dangerous Characters. In 1988, “Greasy Lake” was adapted into a short film starring Eric Stoltz as the narrator and James Spader as Digby. Lasting just under thirty minutes, the film remains true to the story’s brevity and simplicity.

Sprits in the Night. T.C. Boyle named “Greasy Lake” for Bruce Springsteen’s song “Spirit in the Night,” written and recorded for Springsteen’s debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. (1973). This song tells the story of a group of teenagers, “all duded up for [a] Saturday night,” who take “a bottle of rose” and drive “a mile down the dark side of route eight-eight” to “Greasy Lake.”