The title story in this new collection reimagines Victor of Aveyron, the French enfant savage who survived on his own in the woods until he was about 12, when he was taken in by a biologist and became a 19th-century celebrity. Boyle imagines him as a sort of monster, accidentally terrifying villagers by defying their expectations of a young boy. The story follows the loose historical account of his life, but it’s mostly the observers who fascinate Boyle, the need for the scientists to make Victor more civilised and the discomfort provoked in those around him when he refuses.
There are other stories here that Boyle hasn’t ripped from another century’s headlines. In ‘The Lie’, a guy fibs to his boss that his newborn baby has died, simply to get out of work, and the fallout is cringe-inducing. ‘Sin Dolor’ is an oddly sweet story about a boy born without the capacity to feel pain.
But it’s the title story that we keep returning to. It plays the kind of intellectual and emotional game that has become Boyle’s preferred sport. And it makes the case that the short story may be his home turf. Jonathan Messinger