T.C. Boyle's 6 favorite books that explore man's inherent violence

The prolific novelist recommends works by William Faulkner, Robert Stone, and more

T.C. Boyle
(Image credit: (Photo courtesy of author))

Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone (Mariner, $20). My favorite of this ultrahip, bad-boy writer's novels. A drug deal goes wrong (do drug deals ever go right?), and one of our recent literature's hardest hombres, Ray Hicks, picks up his rifle and takes on all comers just to feel the sharp edge of the world rubbing up against him. A beautiful, tense, Vietnam-haunted book.

Black Robe by Brian Moore (Plume, $16). Moore was a real magician, capable of writing exquisite character-oriented books. This 1985 novel is as powerful an evocation of crazed fortitude and American frontier savagery as I've ever come across, James Fenimore Cooper notwithstanding. The title refers to the term the Iroquois applied to the French priests come among them to bring the word of an alien god. Yes, and God help the priests.

First Blood by David Morrell (Grand Central, $8). The first iteration of John Rambo, a Vietnam vet who doesn't really like to be pushed around. A fierce and surprising page-turner, even after these many years.

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Deliverance by James Dickey (Delta, $15). I recently revisited this 1970 novel and found it even better than I'd remembered. Dickey's line-to-line writing is sublime without ever getting in the way, and his depiction of four men reverting to the primitive while on a Georgia canoe trip is telling and well measured — Lord of the Flies peopled with adults.

Sanctuary by William Faulkner (Vintage, $15). Dickey might not have existed if it hadn't been for Faulkner — maybe none of us would. This 1931 novel about the consequences of entering the feral world of the moonshiner still brings chills to me no matter how many times I read it. Temple Drake: Do not get off that train.

Far Tortuga by Peter Matthiessen (Vintage, $18). One of the most astonishing re-creations of nature in our literature. A boat in the Caribbean. Turtles. The patois of the crew that becomes a kind of poetry lived in the moment. And the violence at the heart of it that seems as natural as pegging a leatherback out in the sun. This is a book so powerful it makes me weep.

T.C. Boyle's 15th novel, The Harder They Come, probes an explosive strain of American idealism, in a story culminating in a manhunt in the California woods.

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