When the Killing's Done

When the Killing's Done

by T. C. Boyle

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T.C. Boyle's most powerful and fully realized work yet-"terrifically exciting and unapologetically relevant" (The Washington Post).

Principally set on the wild Channel Islands off the coast of California, T.C. Boyle's new novel is a gripping adventure with a timely theme. Alma Boyd Takesue is a National Park Service biologist spearheading the efforts to save the islands' native creatures from invasive species. Her antagonist, Dave LaJoy, is a local businessman who is fiercely opposed to the killing of any animals whatsoever and will go to any lengths to subvert her plans. As their confrontation plays out in a series of scenes escalating in violence, drama, and danger, When the Killing's Done relates a richly humane tale about the dominion we attempt to exert, for better or worse, over the natural world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781441775245
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Publication date: 02/22/2011
Pages: 10
Product dimensions: 5.02(w) x 5.82(h) x 1.38(d)

About the Author

T. C. Boyle is the author of eleven novels, including World's End (winner of the PEN/FaulknerAward), Drop City (a New York Times bestseller and finalist for the National Book Award), and The Inner Circle. His most recent story collections are Tooth and Claw and The Human Fly and Other Stories.


Santa Barbara California

Date of Birth:

December 2, 1948

Place of Birth:

Peekskill, New York


B.A. in music, State University of New York at Potsdam, 1970; Ph.D. in literature, Iowa University, 1977

Reading Group Guide

Humanity and nature live in a precarious balance, and those who advocate for the rights of animals and the sanctity of the natural world maintain that nature needs help. Alma Boyd Takesue, a National Park Service biologist, believes that the animals need rescuing from each other; Dave LaJoy, an environmental activist, believes that the animals need rescuing from Alma. Faced with the exploding population of rats and feral pigs in the Channel Islands of California and the resulting destruction of natural habitats, Alma is preparing a mass extermination of these animals, in the hope that the elimination of some species will save others. Dave, however, doesn't believe that humans have the right to choose which animals will live and which will die, and this—combined with his personal history with Alma—means he's willing to go to any length to prevent her from achieving her goal. Their explosive relationship and its far-reaching effects form the crux of When the Killing's Done, the timely and thought-provoking new novel from the critically acclaimed writer T.C. Boyle.

Boyle manages to be both expansive and incisive, and he doesn't shy away from addressing volatile subjects. Refusing to depict Alma or Dave as a one-dimensional ideologue, he instead provides nuanced descriptions of the strengths and weaknesses of their opposing perspectives, leaving us to wrestle with the moral ambiguities of their arguments. Alma and Dave are complicated, finely drawn characters, and their battle is built on both science and passion, stemming from a mutual love of nature expressed in starkly contrasting ways. While Dave's commitment to animals is brought on by an emotional epiphany and a struggle to manage his rage, Alma's is built on the foundations of her family's history. As Boyle subtly demonstrates, a single event can shape a family's entire legacy, echoing through generations, and the story of Alma's grandmother's survival of a shipwreck—and the vital role that the Channel Islands played in that story—is intimately connected to Alma's work. Similarly, Anise Reed, Dave's lover, works to save the animals in order to purge the memory of a traumatic event that she and her mother witnessed years ago. In their own ways, each of these characters is working for an outwardly noble purpose rooted in deeply personal motives, and the results of their actions bring together the brutality of nature, the arrogance of humanity and the indelible bonds of family.

Boyle has created a fast-paced, intelligent and provocative read, filled with the drama of politics and environmental sabotage, and his careful rendering of the biology and history of the Channel Islands is superb. Using a multigenerational narrative, Boyle questions humanity's responsibility to the animal world and its place within the ecosystem. Highlighting the dangers of good intentions, When the Killing's Done presents nature not as a paradise but as an uncertain playing field on which animals struggle for survival in an ecosystem forever altered by the one species that seeks to control them all: our own.


T.C. Boyle has a bachelor's degree in English and history, an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a Ph.D. in nineteenth-century British literature. He has written thirteen novels and nine short-story collections, including After the Plague and The Tortilla Curtain; he has published work in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Harper's and The Atlantic, among many other periodicals. The recipient of the PEN/Faulkner Award in the novel and the PEN/Malamud Award for the short story, Boyle was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2009. He currently lives with his family in Santa Barbara—just across the channel from Santa Cruz Island—and teaches at the University of Southern California.

Q. One of your earlier novels, A Friend of the Earth, also tackled environmental issues. How long have you been interested in environmentalism and animal welfare? Like Dave LaJoy, did you experience a particular moment that awakened your interest?

I suppose I've been interested in biology and the environment all my life. I grew up in suburban New York in a time when there was still abundant forest, and I roamed that forest with my eyes wide in wonder. (That forest, my own very specific one, has now been carved up into one-acre estates for some very nice but to my mind absolutely unnecessary homes.) Even now, after many years of living on the West Coast, I still find myself seeking out nature for solace and regeneration, whether it be the ocean down the street or the wild mountains of the Sierra Nevada. As for a particular defining moment, I can't point to one, though with regard to animal welfare I will never forget what Isaac Bashevis Singer had to say on the subject: "Every day is Auschwitz for the animals."

Q. While your writing often addresses volatile issues, you never present clear ideological statements or endorsements of either side of an argument. Privately, however, you must have opinions on the issues you're writing about; has the process of justly representing both perspectives ever influenced or changed your own opinions?

As I have said elsewhere, I do not believe that politics or advocacy and art make for an congenial mix. Fiction is meant to invite the reader to inhabit a space and contemplate a world and its issues as he or she will. It is not the place of the author to lead them by the nose (or any other body part, for that matter). That said, readers of my novels, from The Tortilla Curtain toA Friend of the Earth to When the Killing's Done, or stories like "Hopes Rise" or "After the Plague," should, I think, have an idea of what I believe in and what I stand for, though none of that should be relevant to his or her enjoyment of or engagement with a given novel or story.

Q. Is FPA, the animal-rights activist group in the novel, inspired by any real-life counterparts such as the Animal Liberation Front? Do you think the aggressive and sometime violent tactics used by similar organizations ultimately help or hinder the cause of environmentalism and the humane treatment of animals?

Yes, I am quite consciously thinking of radical environmental groups here, just as I was back in 2000 with my novel about ecoterrorism and global warming, A Friend of the Earth. I can't say whether these groups are advancing or hindering the cause—on the one hand, organizations like Earth First! do bring attention to problems such as clear-cutting and do achieve results, though those results are often as much due to the efforts of mainstream environmental groups as their own; on the other hand, the attention is often negative, as their subversion of the rule of law may be construed by many as a sort of vigilantism. I ask myself, What would Edward Abbey say?

Q. Within your exploration of the themes of population control and playing God, pregnancies and strong mother-daughter relationships figure prominently. How did the theme of motherhood and ecology come together for you?

As this is an interpretive question—or leads to interpretation—I will try to step around it. I very much like your pointing to some of the thematic links in the book, the unfolding of which I do hope will give readers pleasure. Of course, we do live on Mother Earth and we are animals who have been able to discover, through our keen intellects, the sole purpose of life as all other living things understand it: to reproduce.

Q. It seems that there is an inherent conflict in Dave's opposition to slaughtering the rats and pigs, in that not destroying them will eventually destroy the native species; further, he relocates animals of his choosing to the islands. He believes that Alma is playing God, but don't his actions in effect do the same thing?

I will leave this for the reader to decide. The epigraph of the book, from Genesis, should give a clue. I wonder what our true relation to other creatures actually is—even the ones that parasitize us. Pity the poor mosquito (tick, leech, botfly) that only wants the very same things we do: to discover warmth, nutrition—yes, even love—and to raise a brood to inhabit the next and coming generation.

Q. That nature suffers at the hands of humanity is a central point of the novel, but there are many instances of nature's overwhelming people; an example would be the significant role that the ocean plays in the plot. Why did you create this juxtaposition?

Who can step out the door without being overwhelmed by his own tenuousness in the scheme (or, rather, lack of scheme) of things? We are subject to random forces, and all our art, our beauty, our science and wisdom will come to nothing in the end.

Q. Is there significance in the fact that Beverly and the rats arrive on Anacapa in the same fashion? Do you see humans as an invasive species, like the rats and feral pigs?

Again, this is a (wonderfully) leading question that I am not at liberty to answer. Pick up the globe, spin it on your index finger and answer for yourself. But isn't this the central conundrum of environmentalism? As Ty Tierwater, protagonist of A Friend of the Earth, says: "To be a friend of the earth, you have to be an enemy of the people."

Q. Considering that you preface the novel with a quote from the Bible concerning man's God-given dominion over the natural world, and that Dave's boat is named Paladin after Charlemagne's Christian warriors, what connections do you see between the novel and religion?

Religion is voodoo, just as is science, its modern replacement. We live—and die—in a mystery, a mystery that both religion and science seek to address. But all we have, really, is our culture, our family, our art. Everything else comes in shades of black and blacker.

Q. Alicia asks Alma, "What if we just left everything alone like the world was before us—like God made it. Wouldn't that be easier?" (p. 103). Is it reasonable—or even possible—to return the earth to its previously undamaged state? Does setting environmental ambitions so high doom all attempts to frustration and failure?

No. In fact, the restoration on Santa Cruz Island is one of the truly remarkable success stories of modern environmental activism. The indigenous fox, unique to this ecosystem, was a heartbeat from extinction when biologists discovered the final cause in a whole chain of man-made catastrophe—and the fox is now thriving once again. And all this, from imminent danger of extinction to recovery, came in the tiniest fraction of a wink of time. What can I say but hallelujah! The loss of any organism (smallpox?) is a loss forever, and we are all impoverished as a result.

Q. There was a real-life attempt to eradicate feral pigs from the Channel Islands. Was it this endeavor that appealed to you as the basis for a novel?

Please see the response immediately above. Yes, it was this serpentine and, to a large degree, absurd concatenation of events that inspired me to explore the situation and write When the Killing's Done. I could not have done so without the cooperation, guidance and friendship of the naturalists and biologists involved, to whom I am deeply indebted.

Q. What is your writing process? How long does it take to complete a novel, from initial idea to completed work? Do you work on multiple projects simultaneously?

My writing process is my life. Since I first discovered the miracle of fiction and of writing fiction, I have devoted myself to it with all my heart and soul. The world and our lives in it are mysterious and the only way I can begin to address that mystery is to create worlds of my own, to dream a dream and present it to you so that you can dream it too. As for the other two questions: 1) As long as it takes. 2) No. But then each project is different, each story or novel spinning out in its own orbit. My job is to follow it to completion and then follow the next.

  • The book opens with the dramatic story of Alma's grandmother's boat accident. What is Anise's family history? Does your family have any great stories that have been passed down through the generations?
  • What does the title of the novel refer to?
  • Alma muses that "if she had enough money—say, five hundred billion or so—she'd buy up all the property in town, raze the buildings, tear out the roads and reintroduce the grizzly bear" (p. 41). Do you think Dave might say something similar? If you had nearly limitless funds, what good work would you do?
  • On pp. 64 – 65, we see Dave's response to Alma's presentation and his vandalizing of her car. Do you believe his personal relationship with Alma influenced his actions? In what ways are Alma's opinion of and interactions with him colored by their former relationship?
  • There are numerous example of Dave's inability to deal with his anger, usually targeted at other people. On p. 69, Dave questions whether his behavior exhibits "a fundamental inconsistency: pro-animal, antihuman." Does it?
  • Alma considers her footprint in the global ecology and feels "guilt over being alive, needing things, consuming things, turning the tap or lighting the flame under the gas burner" (p. 191). Do you feel the same way? Is it possible to exist without imposing on some other creature or resource?
  • Do Alma and Dave conform to your expectations of dedicated environmentalists? Are you similarly committed to any strong beliefs or principles? Have you ever been in a situation where you were pressured to compromise them?
  • As Dave sabotages the rat poison, he feels a "giddiness rising in him, the surge of power and triumph that rides up out of nowhere to replace the bafflement and rage and depression Dr. Reiser and his pharmaceuticals can't begin to touch. This is who he is. This" (p. 82). Does Dave do his animal rights work for himself or for his cause, or are the two completely intertwined? Does it matter?
  • Have you ever found yourself in battle with nature, either as victim or as aggressor? What was the result?
  • In what ways are Dave and Alma similar? How does each character's perspective shift by the end of the novel?
  • Which character did you feel was more sympathetic than the others? Who was least appealing? Which character best approximated your own feelings toward animals and the environment?
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    When the Killing's Done 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 48 reviews.
    KKR More than 1 year ago
    The topic here is the war between PETA-like folks and Park Service folks. The focus is on a couple of little islands off the coast of California near Santa Barbara, which is the city where Boyle lives. Is the killing of any animal wrong, always? The vegetarian/vegan locals say yes. This puts them in direct opposition to the people in the Park Service who want to kill off an invasive rat population on one island and an invasive feral pig population on another. On the second island there is also, at one end, a sheep ranch; the sheep are also ranked as invasive. The rangers want the land returned to the foxes that were there before. (But how did *they* get there?) The cost is in the millions. Boyle balances the claims and the personal shortcomings of the characters on both sides. As in all his work, he is merciless in his dissection of a character's rationalizations and hypocrisies. I think he's a little harder on the ones united For the Protection of Animals, in that they are more self-righteous and also oblivious to the environment in any larger sense beyond animal protection. Their rather snotty leader owns a chain of electronics stores, for example. The most sympathetic character by far is Alma Boyd Takesue, a half-Japanese American whose grandmother, pregnant with her mother, survived a shipwreck off the coast of one of the islands back in 1946. The novel opens with a harrowing account of her experience. True, Alma's work with the Park Service makes her the one that pays the killers, as she sees clearly. But returning the islands to their "original" state is worth it, isn't it? Boyle lets the reader decide. There are a number of violent encounters in here, aside from the elimination of several species; feelings run high. Yours will be engaged, I'm sure.
    PlankGeek on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    The book's well written, especially the biological information. Some of the character development is a little convenient, but overall I thought this was a good read. Anthony Heald did a very good job as narrator, bringing the characters to life.
    gmillar on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    An interesting plot line which deals with an ethical conundrum - but - I felt that the author used many more words than were necessary for the plot line he chose and I felt that the author is a person who is really pleased with himself. Of course that feeling could have been instilled by the reader, and/or by the way it was read, but it was a strong impression for me. I haven't had such a strong feeling about an author before and I was quite disturbed by myself. I should now go and read another T. C. Boyle offering and see what that does for me.
    booklove2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    The Channel Islands, off the coast of California, miraculously saved Alma Boyd Takesue's pregnant grandmother in a shipwreck, and is also the focus of Alma's life as a conservationist with the National Park Service to protect the rare species that live on the islands. In order to save some animals, she has to destroy the invasive species and not everyone is happy with that. Alternating chapters between Alma and Dave LaJoy, the animal rights activist at the fore-front trying to save any animal from being killed, throughout the first decade of this century, it becomes quite an eventful battle. It seems like many of Boyle's books contain characters fighting on opposite sides of an issue. He hints at the positives and negatives on each side, therefore there is never a chance to be preachy. He never chooses either side, he simply wants the reader to think.I can see a lot of readers not liking this book because of the characters. Some readers need to really love and feel sympathetic to a character, in order to stick with a book. Many of Boyle's characters are usually naive, cynical, hypocritical, not very likable, but that is what I love about Boyle's writing. You wouldn't really have an interesting book with perfect characters anyway. Boyle doesn't need to be another writer with perfect characters, because his writing has everything else. I get the feeling that Boyle rarely even likes any of his characters. Not all of the events that occur seem to tie together. Some things seem to happen simply to torture the characters. But maybe that is the point. Dave is so busy with his vindictive mission to make Alma's life miserable (and there wasn't much of a back story for Dave to say why, though Alma's story goes back generations, and Dave's point of view does occupy half of the book, after all) that maybe it was never even about the animals at all. Maybe in the war of human vs. human, animals and everything else in the world get lost in the shuffle. But then again, animals don't play nice either, with an especially traumatic episode involving sheep that Dave's girlfriend Anise witnesses, while she is living on the islands as a teen. The characters may have their flaws, but Boyle's writing does not. Boyle has an amazing, unique style. He uses a few words that require the use of a dictionary, words I've never seen before, but sometimes I just want to read a smart book. The prose is so alive, memorable and vivid, at times the book felt less like literature and more like life. Important things were said here. I'm convinced with Boyle's range of subjects, there is at least one book for everyone. This book contains elements of Boyle's other books. I was often reminded of A Friend of the Earth, East is East, Drop City, and The Tortilla Curtain while reading this one. Incidentally, these are all four of Boyle's books I've read, and all VERY recommendable. Especially The Tortilla Curtain (if any book should be required reading, it's this one). Boyle writes a mean short story as well. Visiting islands in the ocean, this was the perfect book to get away from all this New York snow. Keep those books coming, Mr. Boyle!
    PamelaBarrett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    For forty years I¿ve driven past California¿s Channel Islands, seeing them on a clear day is like glimpsing paradise, but I¿ve never stepped foot on them. When I read in Sunset Magazine about T.C. Boyles new book¿When the Killings Done¿I had to buy it, just to travel to the islands through his words, and he didn¿t disappoint. The story centers on Alma Takesuke, a woman who is trying to restore the balance of the islands by eliminating non-native species¿rats on Anacapa and pigs on Santa Cruz¿who are decimating the native wildlife and plants. On the other side of this issue is Dave La Joy, a wealthy entrepreneur who doesn¿t want the rats and pigs killed, and whose organization FPA (For the Protection of Animals) sets up protests, disruptions, media intrusions, lawsuits and anything he can throw at her to stop the slaughter.Be prepared for the roller coaster of Boyle¿s writing style. It¿s a never-take-a-breath adventure that starts with a shipwreck or two or three and puts you on the edge waiting for the next disaster to hit. There is some crude language, a little sex, and a lot of historical content that he presents in non-boring way. All the characters seemed like people I know, and there are stories within stories that he pulls together like pieces of a puzzle. He also presents all sides of this debate in a way that¿s not black or white. I read this on Kindle.
    skfurlotte on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    T.C. Boyle¿s book When the Killing¿s Done is a compelling work. The battle between Dave LaJoy leader of an animal rights group and Alma Boyd Takesue a biologist with the National Park Service over the fate of the plant and animal life on the Channel Islands off the California coast is vicious. The sad fact is that this battle is also self-serving most of the time. The author has created a cast of characters that are, in most cases, unlikeable. The battle over the Park Service¿s mandate to eradicate all plant and animal life that is not indigenous to the islands and Lajoy¿s desire to protect all plant and animal life regardless of where it originated is the backdrop against which the action of the novel takes place. However, the most enjoyable parts of the novel are those which depict the people who have at various times made their homes on these islands. It is the human story that really is the heart of this novel.
    ufjunkie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Both Dr. Alma Takesue, who works for the National Park Service and David Lajoy, a strong-minded animal activist, want to save the wildlife on Santa Cruz island which lies off the coast of California. But they can't agree on how it should be done. Takesue favors exterminating the invasive species (rats and wild boars) that are destroying the native inhabitants whereas Lajoy feels that all life, even those of rats, should be completely protected. And when their opposing ideas on the topic come into conflict, their emotions escalate until, finally, violence erupts.T.C. Boyle, as always, expertly weaves several narratives together, creating a richly woven story in which two people who should be working for the same cause end up as bitter enemies. Boyle's depiction of the island is so vivid that the reader will want to hop the first ferry to Santa Cruz, but for all the description, the story is a page-turner.When the Killing's Done is not only a gripping read, but a fascinating look into two characters who, despite their dedication to preserving life, don't really have much to live for. Both Takesue and Lajoy are miserable characters. Takesue, a humorless workaholic, is so gripped by worries over her carbon footprint that even brewing a cup of tea fills her with guilt. Lajoy, on the other hand, is so ego-centric and misanthropic that it's nearly impossible for the reader, or anyone else, to connect with him.T.C. Boyle has written many wonderful novels, and When the Killing's Done does not disappoint. I highly recommend this book.
    grheault on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Lots of killing in this book, and the Santa Cruz Channel does a lot of it with assists from rocks, storms, and passing ships. It seems like everyone is drowning sometime or other. Reminiscent of Carl Hiaasen enviro-detective novels set in Florida, fun book with comic characters who seem to specialize in doing themselves in. Particularly interesting, enjoyable if you know the area. The back and forth on ethics of interventions leads to a predictable seesaw stalemate. Attempts to recapture the past, it seems, are just that. I am a fan of TC Boyle from way back, and thank him for keeping on writing.
    scenik1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This novel is all strengths. Set in and around the Channel Islands off Santa Barbara, California, WHEN THE KILLING¿S DONE exposes our very human hubris in the face of Nature¿s unrelenting persistence and power. The antagonists, Alma Boyd Takesue and Dave LaJoy, each have a personal investment in the fauna of Anacapa and Santa Cruz islands. Takesue is the spokesperson and figure head of the National Park Service and responsible for restoring the native habitat for the islands to head off the extinction of some of the most fragile and uniques species in the world. Dave LaJoy, an extremely hotheaded entrepreneur and recently ¿born again¿ animal rights advocate, will go to any extremes to prevent the suffering and killing of animals. The tension of their conflict builds to a very T.C. Boyle climax. The book jacket says the book offers no transparent answers, which is essentially true; but given the final outcome for one of the main characters, a certain bias hovers around the denouement. It is, nonetheless, very subtle and difficult to clarify solidly, and the power of Boyle¿s writing prevails. As with TORTILLA CURTAIN, WHEN THE KILLING¿S DONE deftly draws the reader first onboard one side of the issue, then the other; and always through the characters, neither of whom is completely sympathetic. If fact, LaJoy is thoroughly dislikable, but one cannot help seeing his point and even hoping for his success; until Boyle then introduces Takesue and we progress through her efforts, dreams and hopes and find ourselves on her side, rooting for her success and LaJoy¿s downfall. The upshot is a revelation of the complexities of human stewardship of God¿s creation, although Boyle overtly leaves God out of the story. Still, the verse from Genesis (1:28 ¿And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.¿) that appears before the opening acknowledgments is carefully and powerfully predominant. The underlying message is, Life will have its way, whether through human intervention or some other way, and who is using whom? Our shipwrecks, our mishaps and our manipulations still amount to forward movement with losses and gains beyond our control, so it would appear that God¿s blessing is given and is upon us, no matter what we do, and is not a directive so much as a given.
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    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I liked this book but not my favorite of this author. It is worth your time reading but don't miss his other titles if this is your first of his writings.
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    LouF More than 1 year ago
    A decent read
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