“Greasy Lake” by Tom Coraghessan Boyle

Posted: November 28th, 2013





Greasy Lake by Tom Coraghessan Boyle


Most young men, if not all, have experienced a time in their lives when they fantasized about being invincible. However, this fantasy is erased from their minds at some point when they met an experience or encounter a situation, which becomes their transformation point. It is at this point that reality strikes back in these men’s lives. This is what Boyle depicts in his story Greasy Lake. The story revolves around three boys by the name Digby, Jeff and the narrator who goes through experiences that bring a moment of enlightenment. They feel that they can be unscrupulous people and do unpleasant things so that for once, they are out of the ordinary. To these boys, they are invincible. Boyle depicts these three young going through the learning process of making mistakes, suffering the consequences and realizing that their belief in self-invincibility is only a fantasy.

The young men in the story commit mistakes because of the wrong attitude they have. This is symbolic of the young people whom when young and naïve, tend to make decisions which they think are right in order to gain their self-identity. They want to be popular and so they think that if they become bad, they will stand out from the crowd. These three young men in the book wanted to stand out. They wanted feel the experience of “being bad boys”. In order to achieve this feeling, they went ahead to befriended a bad boy. They almost raped a girl and they almost murdered someone. Finally, they painfully know that the perception is more significant than the actions.

Characters’ Belief in their own Invincibility

As consistently seen, the three young men believe that they cannot be defeated by anybody and anything. According to the narrator, they were tough characters. This is depicted by the statement “We were bad” (922). They perceived themselves as the epitome of being cool. They used drugs, wore sunglasses anytime of the day and so there was no one who could be worse than they were at that particular time. In these characters’ views, they were the talk of summer and the center of attention for every young person.

When describing their character, the narrator says, “We wore torn-up leather jackets, slouched around with toothpicks in our mouths, sniffled glue…we drank gin and grape juice, Tango, Thunderbird, and Bali Hal. We were nineteen. We were bad”, (922). This was to show how tough they were. They wanted to act the part they wanted to portray. However, this was not who they were. The streets were not the place of their birth thus they were not street, hard-core boys. They were just simple, normal boys who wanted to rebel. Unlike the cases in the bad boys where it takes many recurring experiences for them to get enlightened, these boys only had to go through one stretched experience for them to know that the invincible fantasy was over.

These young men perceived themselves as the conquerors and tough enough to overcome any opposing obstacle. In order to prove this, they go searching for thrills three days after summer began. They want to prove their “badness” to themselves and the rest of their public. However, things do not go as planned. Their cowardice starts being seen at this moment when the narrator looses the car keys.

Characters’ mistakes due to their self-invincible Attitude

The young men find themselves due to their belief in self-invincibility. In the story, the young men get into trouble in the processes of finding some thrill (trouble). The narrator loses the car keys, identifies a wrong car and takes a tire iron, all in one night. All these actions lead the characters to near tragedy. However, these subsequent scenarios lead the victims to their transforming moment where they realize that what they desire or believe in is a fantasy.

When the characters arrive at Greasy Lake, they identify a car that they think belongs to one of their other friends. Greasy lake was a perfect backdrop that symbolizes transformation since it was one admired for its clean water but now floats with beer cans, broken glasses and contraceptives. They think that the friend is having sex with a girl, and so this increases their excitement. In order to satisfy their urge of being bad and careless, they go to the car (Chevy), honk the horn, and look through the car’s windows, only to find out that the occupant in the car was not one of their friends but rather another bad boy known as Bobby.

The interference arouses the viciousness and fury in Bobby, who starts a fight in the process. In an attempt to defend themselves, one of the boys reaches out for a tire iron and hits Bobby on the head. This causes Bobby to fall, and the assumption that he is dead settles on the boys. This becomes the climax of the experience. The boys might have murdered someone, and there seems to be a witness, the girl Bobby was with in the car. As if the possible murder in their hands was not enough, the “bad boys” attempt to rape this girl, but they are interrupted by another mob of Bobby’s friends who have come to Bobby’s rescue. However, they had thought that the car Bobby’s friends came in was a police car, which had them very scared. In order to hide from this approaching “police”, the young men retreat into a hide out.

While hiding, the young men discover a body floating on the waters of the lake. This was like adding insult to injury. The corpse was for a biker who had his motorcycle packed in the parking lot. This emergence of the floating corpse allows the young men to reevaluate their actions and their desires. The narrator describes himself as being wrecked (possible murder case) and his car being ruined (revenge from Bobby’s friend). This shows a form of regret and the wake up call from the fantasy world.

According to Boyle, “When the three companions emerge from hiding at daybreak and meet at the ruined car, Digby remarks, ‘at least they didn’t slash the tires” (254). This shows that there was hope. They could still go back home to their normal lives and come back from the fantasy world they had gotten into. When they find out that Bobby was not dead but was just shaken by the hit, their hopes become bigger. In order to justify their turning point, they turn down the girls who were referred to as easy pickings as they had “tight jeans [and] stiletto heels” (929). Although Digby turned the girls down verbally, the rest of the group did this with their actions. The narrator puts “the car in gear…creeping towards the highway” (929). When they left Greasy Lake, they had drowned their fantasies of being invincible and now were heading back to the reality of life. They were going to be who they were.


The characters belief in invincibility is proved wrong when their actions get them into trouble, which was near tragic. In the course of the events, they realize their own mortality and vulnerability. They thought that they were shielded from the cruelty of the world. This is symbolic of the thoughts one has and the mistakes one make when there are in their youthful years and in their naivety. Like in this story, most of these decisions lead these young people in to trouble as they fantasize about their conquering ability. Some people are not as lucky as these boys, as they end up being imprisoned or losing their lives. Similarly, the theme portrayed can be identified with adults too who feel that being good does not reward quickly and they sort to other unacceptable ways. Just like the boys, they are not as powerful as they once believed.

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