Allyson Sonne is a senior at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.
She is currently working towards a bachelors degree in English with
concentration in writing and communications, as well as a masters degree
in Education. She is focused on becoming a middle school English teacher post graduation.
T.C. Boyle’s short story “Greasy Lake” (1979) is a fast-paced telling of a night in the lives of three boys: Jeff, Digby and the unidentified narrator. Looking for a dangerous thrill to feed their “bad boy” images, they head to Greasy Lake. The night quickly goes from wanting to be “bad” to a situation where even the most “wanna be bad boy” would want to trade his leather jacket and cigarettes for a suit and tie. Mistaking a strange man in a car for their friend, the boys honk and pester the car until the man gets out. The narrator gives a devastating blow to the man’s head with a tire iron. The “tough guy” character emerges again within the boys as they feel accomplished; they decide to see what they can get away with by the girl in the car.
As the story goes on and the night goes on, the boys’ positions are shattered by the realization of what was actually happening. Reading this I envisioned the boys resembling John Travolta and the T-Birds in the movie Grease. Although this image is clear-cut, I feel that Boyle made the characters universal at the same time. No matter where you are from, what you look like or how old you are, the characters and the situation can be identifiable with something in your life.
Of course, I’m sure not many have smashed someone with a tire iron, ran for their life, hid in a mucky lake, or stumbled upon a dead body and a couple of stray women. At least I hope not. The point is, somewhere, sometime we have all been in a situation that just didn’t turn out how we expected. Good or bad, regretful or lesson learned, there is a well-remembered turning point on the road to maturity in all of us.
Because of the powerful message held in the story’s universal plot and identifiable characters, it is hard not to question yourself or some of your actions in certain situations. Why did I do that? Was this really worth it? What am I looking for? Maybe pondering these questions you will come across a realization like the narrator did when he realized the danger he was actually in — that he could have been the body floating in the lake — or, maybe you will not.
I think the story was great solely in the fact that it gets you thinking. That’s what a great story does. It raises questions that spill out from the page into your own life experience. You follow the characters as if you are on a quest and the experiences of the characters push you along to question your own quest.
Great stories don’t give you the answers to those questions, but they enrich your life by encouraging you to ask important questions about what it means to be a human being. And, in the process, good stories give you the hope that perhaps you can find some of those answers as you make your own way in the world. So, what do you think will help to the narrator next? Will he return to Greasy Lake soon?