A Friend of the Earth

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T. Coraghessan Boyle's novel A Friend of the Earth (2000) is a story of environmental destruction. The novel is set in 2025; as a result of global warming and the greenhouse effect, the climate has drastically changed, and, accordingly, biodiversity is a thing of the past.


America in 2025

Due to habitat loss, many animal species have become extinct, but also the flora has considerably suffered. Many foods, including beef, eggs, beer, etc., are no longer readily available. Instead, rice is grown everywhere, and sake is the only alcoholic beverage available. Other vegetables are grown in domed fields. El Niño has become an everyday companion of the inhabitants of the United States: strong winds are continuously blowing, and there is heavy rainfall for several months every year. In the dry season, it is unbearably hot. Helpful medicines have been found in the rainforest, including cures for cancer.

Deforestation has occurred for two reasons: (a) the storms, which have uprooted whole forests; and, (b) the timber industry's limitless destruction of primeval forests all over the world, including the tropical rainforest. On top of it all, modern science has invented many artificial ways to prolong human life (for example, there are TV ads for organ transplants), and longevity among humans is now a fact with life expectancy having climbed to over the 100-year mark. Consequently, the world is massively overpopulated. In the U.S.A., what used to be unspoiled nature is now residential areas, with condominiums having sprung up everywhere. Inside these condos, people who do not care about the environment live their lives in front of their computers and televisions.

At no point in the novel does Boyle enter into a discussion of the political situation, but there are various hints hidden in the text which tell us that the social security system has crumbled and that many older Americans are left to their own devices, without a regular income, many of them seemingly even without a roof over their heads.

Plot summary

A Friend of the Earth is the story of Tyrone O'Shaughnessy Tierwater, a U.S. citizen born in 1950, half Irish Catholic and half Jewish ("I'm a mess and I know it. Jewish guilt, Catholic guilt, enviro-eco-capitalistico guilt: I can't even expel gas in peace."), whose personal tragedy fits in with, and adds to, the gloomy atmosphere created in the novel.

Egged on by Andrea, the woman he loves, he becomes a committed "Earth Forever!" activist (an allusion to the radical environmental group Earth First!) in the 1980s, is imprisoned for ecotage, but eventually cannot change anything. On top of that, he suffers the loss of his first wife when their daughter is only three and of his daughter when she is only 25. When the novel opens, Tierwater is a 75-year-old disillusioned ex-con living on the estate of a famous pop star in the Santa Ynez Valley, north of Santa Barbara, in California and looking after the latter's private menagerie.

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