Were you a Hippie? A Digger? An Ecoterrorist? Is your bookshelf overflowing with back issues of Mother Earth News, the Whole Earth Catalogue, and Zap Comix? Did somebody steal your copy of Abbie Hoffman’s book? Have you ever stuffed a burrito up a tail pipe? How many rotations are there in a Dumpster Dive?
Are you a friend of the earth?
T. C. Boyle’s novel, A Friend of the Earth, poses a lot of questions about how best to be a friend of the earth and I believe most self-professed environmentalists and all wannabe ecoterrorists would do well to stop and consider what they are doing. The lingering question in the novel is clearly whether the ecoterrorists are actually effective and whether what they do is objectively good for the planet.
Take the hero, Tyrone Tierwater. In a one-man attack against the big lumber companies, Ty disables hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of heavy equipment (which the insurance company quickly replaces) and in what seems like a fit of pique sets fire to the old-growth forest, destroying trees and habitat. Is Ty really a friend of the earth? When Ty blocks a culvert under a logging road and washes out the side of the mountain, is he just being friendly?
Boyle’s novel flips back and forth through several developments in Ty’s life—lovers, prison terms, wild animal care—but underneath it all, Ty is somewhat of a jerk and those closest to him let him know it … but he still goes out and pours sand in the police chief’s gas tank.
Are we supposed to admire Tierwater for his persistent war against those that would harm the earth or are we supposed to see Ty for the ineffective nuisance that he is? Although it is almost too subtle, from the very beginning there are sensible voices suggesting working through the media and through the courts; of course Ty is too impulsive to listen and goes off to perpetrate another round of destruction followed by a few years of down-time in the slam.
Are we supposed to like Ty? To identify with him? If the author is comfortable with presenting Tyrone Tierwater as a hero then I have a problem with T. C. Boyle. Several years back I also had a problem with Boyle and his Tortilla Curtain. He seems to be making a point that I find lacking in empathy or understanding.
If man is eliminated will the earth survive or is man only destroying his own habitat and will no longer survive on earth leaving the inland beach-front property to the ants and the mollusks.