“Greasy Lake”by T. Coraghessan Boyle

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What is the main point to be derived from the reading of “Greasy Lake”?

This story at first appearance could simply be viewed as an entertaining piece of fiction but as the reader delves deeper into the plot of the story, they find themselves reading a work of a whole different aspect. The author has written a story that does not really teach a moral value. “Greasy Lake” lies somewhere in between an adventure story and a horror story without actually meeting the criteria of either but yet, compels the reader to continue on reading, waiting for a logical end that never quite happens. It is a disturbing story that is filled various similes or metaphors that make suggestions to the reader but does not actually apply them to the reality of the story. Symbolism is thick and fluent without distracting from the flow of the story or the reactions of the other characters in the story outside the main first person character.

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The story jumps straight into the idea that these three young men are up to no good from the very start.  To be young and bad was the whole established point of their adventure at Greasy Lake.

“We were nineteen. We were bad”. (First paragraph of “Greasy Lake” fourth line.)

The second point that was established was the darkness of the whole escapade, beginning the clear defining of Greasy Lake as a morbid, unpleasant place that could only breed mischief and mayhem. For these young men looking for trouble, Greasy Lake was the perfect location to find it. In the second paragraph of the story, the lake is explained from once being clear and unpolluted waters in another time to now being a body of murky, dense filth that could hardly pass itself off as a lake.

“The Indians had called it Wakan, reference to the clarity of its waters. Now, it was fetid and murky, the mud banks glittering with broken glass and strewn with beer cans and the charred remains of bonfires.” (Second paragraph of “Greasy Lake” third and fourth lines)

In the reading of Boyle’s “Greasy Lake” and the Moral Failure of Postmodernism by Michael Walker, the idea that all the implications that Boyle made reference to in his symbolism was a comparison to the fighting of Americans in Vietnam during the same time period of 1967 in which the story was to take place in. Mr. Walker emphasized that while young American males of the same age as the characters in “Greasy Lake” were fighting for a moralistic idea in the swamps of South Vietnam, these three young Americans were engaged in a battle of a type within the “swampy” atmosphere of Greasy Lake with the combatants that they encountered when they arrived at the lake. Yet, the main character and his two friends did not learn anything from what occurred at the lake while the soldiers in Vietnam would have derived some value about life from their experience in the war.

Mr. Walker also found other comparisons to “Greasy Lake” in the film “Easy Rider”. He suggested the aimless attitude of the young men as they approach a car which they think is a friend but soon discover is a character that they do not want to deal with but have to. A fight ensues and it takes all three of the boys to take down this one “greasy” character later referred in the story as Bobby. The main character is the one who finally ends the struggle with a tire iron. Murder and imminent capture enter his mind as he fumbles trying to find his car keys lost in the weeds and grass. Little or no care for the state of the injured man but only in what could be the possible consequences if he is discovered to be the one involved. His nonchalance towards the other man is an attitude that Mr. Walker refers to this quote from his article.

“In her essay, “Notes toward a Dreampolitik,” Joan Didion describes the funeral of a motorcycle outlaw portrayed in The Wild Angels, the 1966 “classic exploitation bike movie” starring Peter Fonda. After the gang has raped and murdered while destroying a small town, “They stand at the grave, and, uncertain how to mark the moment, Peter Fonda shrugs. |Nothing to say,’ he says” (99).” (First paragraph, lines one through five of Boyle’s “Greasy Lake” and the Moral Failure of Postmoderism)

This is where the darkness of the “place” comes into true perspective as was referenced in certain passages of a book entitled Constructing Place: Mind and Matter by Sarah Menin. She states.

“Despite the repugnance with which we may hold the scene that Coraghessan Boyle described in his unusual story, it does, in fact, meet the criteria I developed in my discussion of place. The three youths in the story are sensitive to the compelling quality of Greasy Lake. They are caught up in its spirit, lose their sense of discrete selfhood, and engage in wild, impulsive, aggressive behaviour that exactly carries out meanings embodied in that place” (Third Paragraph, page 50, Constructing Place: Mind and Matter)

It is suggested throughout the story that these three young men as well as perhaps the “blond fraternity brothers” have perceived all of this as a “rite of passage”. In suggestions from the beginning of the story, everything that the three do can be justified as simply the release of their natural energy as boys passing into manhood. Seeing Greasy Lake as a sinister place to begin with but also a ritual ground where most of the local young population had participated in one form or another of graduation into adulthood by using drugs, the consumption of alcohol, wanton sex, and in general, “anything goes” at Greasy Lake, they see nothing out of the norm in their behavior. It sets the pace of what will occur at Greasy Lake. This point is well approached in the following quote from Mr. Walker’s article.

“Greasy Lake” is an excellent example of a story that includes many conventions of the revelatory tale but draws back at every opportunity of displaying any true revelation in the characters in such a way that the story parodies the belief in revelation itself.” (Sixth paragraph, lines one through four, Boyle’s “Greasy Lake” and the Failure of Postmodernism)

Mr. Walker was quite emphatic on his point of how many similes that Mr. Boyle used in the story to compare the scene within the story to the scenes of South Vietnam. He relates a rite of passage in Vietnam as comparative to what the main character and his companions go through while being pursued by the now awakened Bobby and the two blond fraternity brothers. Soldiers in hiding from militant Viet Cong, afraid for their lives, just as is the main character afraid for his own life from Bobby and his buddies as he creeps from the bank into the stagnant water of Greasy Lake.

So what is the age of accountability? “A child who has passed the age of accountability is said to know the difference between right and wrong and to be capable of obeying the moral laws of God.” (Wikipedia’s “Age of Accountability”)

Mr. Walker also makes several other comparisons to different types of works by other authors within his article on “Greasy Lake.” His stated opinion that a modernistic story would leave the reader with the idea that the main character had obtained some lesson from his experience but since “Greasy Lake” is classified as a post modernistic story, and then it ends as it was chosen to end, just as a story of the experience.

In another journal article, On The Hysterical Playground by Max Watman, an explanation was given of T. Coraghessen Boyle’s story telling style. “Boyle built his reputation on books such as Greasy Lake, in which he switched styles from story to story and took extraordinary leaps of imagination.”

The whole concept that the story does not explore the main character’s conscience seems to give “Greasy Lake” a separate genre that few other writers are willing to use. It makes it unique within itself.

“Greasy Lake” is in itself a very good story, just for the sake of reading. It is fast-paced and never leaves the reader bored. Whether or not, it contains a moralistic point is not relevant other than it is an entertaining fiction.


1.  Boyle’s “Greasy Lake” and the Failure of Postmodernism

Journal article by Michael Walker; Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 31, 1994

2.  Constructing Place, Mind and Matter

Book by Sarah Menin; Routledge, 2003

3. “The Coming of Age”, “The Age of Accountability”, Wikipedia, Free Encyclopedia

4.  On The Hysterical Playground

Magazine article by Max Watman; New Criterion, Vol. 20, November 2001


Cite this page

“Greasy Lake”by T. Coraghessan Boyle. (2017, Jan 25). Retrieved from


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