Comedy and Tragedy Collide in ‘I Walk Between the Raindrops’

Lee Polevoi


I Walk Between the Raindrops: Stories

By T.C. Boyle


272 pages


The novelist and short-story writer T.C. Boyle is very good at what he does. His prose flits artfully around on the page, rich in imagery and colloquial phrasing, often delivered via first-person narrators as deeply flawed as any reader could hope for. Sometimes this makes for an awkward balance between comedy and tragedy, but in his best work, Boyle succeeds in nailing a particular vein of (usually) male rage.


His latest story collection, I Walk Between the Raindrops, exemplifies the T.C. Boyle brand. In “The Shape of a Teardrop,” for example, a young adult named Justin still lives with (and sponges off) his parents. He’s not about to leave voluntarily, which generates considerable tension within the household:


“Shouting matches? If they want shouting matches, well, I’m more than equal to the task. They’re old and weak and ridiculous and they know it, with their stained teeth and droopy necks and faces like masks cut out of sheets of sandpaper with two holes poked for their glittery, hypercritical eyes to blaze through. You want to call them duplicitous, unloving, conniving? Check, check, and check.”


“The Thirteenth Day” is a harrowing account of life aboard a quarantined ocean liner at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The passengers’ panic, boredom, and inertia seem vividly real, but a reader may wonder: Did Boyle take the story far enough? Is there more that might be said, beyond the obvious tragedy?



The title story is among the strongest in this collection, a disturbing piece that links disparate narrative elements and closes with a devastating (and unprintable) last line.


Brandon, the narrator, and his wife, Nola, celebrate Valentine’s Day in, of all places, Kingman, Arizona. One afternoon, he slips away for a drink in a local bar (“a cavernous place with a high, tin ceiling that was part of a now-defunct hotel”) and is harassed by Serena, a woman who claims to have ESP. Interspersed with this encounter are Brandon’s memories of a frightening mudslide in his Southern California hometown, as well as an incident in Nola’s recent experience as a volunteer for the National Suicide Prevention Society.


Tormented by the ESP woman, Brandon retreats to another corner of the bar and tries to sum up in his head the meaning of these incongruous moments of his life:


“But it was Valentine’s Day and it was all on me: the poor disjointed ESP woman rebuffed by a man she didn’t even know (and didn’t have the faintest inkling of how deep and true he ran, except, I suppose, on a paranormal level) and feeling there was just no use in going on living without him. Hold on to that for a minute and tell me about the fathomless, inexpressible, heartbreaking loneliness of life on this planet.”



In several stories, the premise rests upon what’s happening in the news. In “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” a woman on a train meets a young man wearing an Incel T-shirt, and a connection of sorts is forged. Other stories feel slighter, propped up by visions of not-so-futuristic technology.


The problem for writers like Boyle, adept at encapsulating moments in the zeitgeist, is that by the time their stories appear in book form, some of that urgency is lost.


In his best work, like the prototypical short story, “Mexico” (1998), no one does a better job than Boyle at describing male befuddlement, lust, and anger (frequently aggravated by his characters’ shockingly abundant consumption of alcohol).


The stories collected in I Walk Between the Raindrops rarely achieve that perfect pitch, but as always, there’s plenty of comedy and tragedy to go around.


Author Bio:

Lee Polevoi, Highbrow Magazine’s chief book critic, is the author of The Moon in Deep Winter, and a new novel, The Confessions of Gabriel Ash, forthcoming in 2023.


For Highbrow Magazine


Image Sources:


--No Name (Pixabay, Creative Commons)

--Levent Simesk (Pexels, Creative Commons)


not popular
Bottom Slider: 
In Slider