I'm always reading something, usually multiple books at a time.
TC Boyle's writing is as sharp as ever, but this novel mostly left me cold. I'd sum it up as "bad stuff happens, it sucks, and then people move on."
The third-person, past-tense novel is told through three different perspectives: that of Sten Stensen, a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran and retired high-school principal, Adam, his dangerously delusional son, and Sara, a 40-year-old divorcee who is ridiculously libertarian (seat-belt laws are obviously a nanny-state conspiracy against freedom-lovers like her, and she can ignore them because she "ha[s] no contract" with California law enforcement).
Sten, while on vacation in Costa Rica with his wife Carolee, reacts instinctively during a hold-up by local bandits, and ends up killing their ring-leader as the other two run away. Upon returning home, he reluctantly becomes seen as a hero.
Sara stupidly flouts California laws and ends up with her car impounded and her dog in quarantine at the pound (dog bites one of the arresting officers). By chance, she picks up Adam as a hitch hiker after getting her car back. They begin a sad little affair that mostly consists of sex. She is attracted to his wiry hardbody, and he likes her "big tits," sexual availability, and food.
Adam spends much of his time in the woods, and even moreso when Sten sells the house (having belonged to Adam's grandmother) Adam has been living in. Adam prefers to be called "Colter" after John Colter of Lewis and Clark's expedition. In his perspective, he experiences detailed delusions involving what "Colter" is doing, and it is never clear whether he sees himself as Colter or merely with Colter. Adam's story is based on the 2011 case of Aaron Bassler, and while in his delusion state, he does the things described in this article.
It's not even a case of not liking the characters, though really Sten was the only one even vaguely sympathetic. I even ended up hating Sara's dog, Kutya. Who names a male dog "Kutya"? And how/why does a dog even have dreadlocks? Is that even a thing? But more--why did I even just go through all that with the characters?
According to the blurb, "As T.C. Boyle explores a father's legacy of violence and his powerlessness in relating to his equally violent son, he offers unparalleled insights into the American psyche." I disagree. For one thing, Adam is not "equally violent"; their violence does not equate. Also, what insights into the "American psyche"? We have certain motifs presented, I suppose, but that doesn't mean there is insight provided.
The one and only time I liked Sara in this book was when she snapped at Adam, "Shut up about Colter!" That was our one moment of common ground.