"Greasy Lake" "Greasy Lake' by Tom Coraghessan Boyle, is the story of a group of adolescents, searching for the one situation that will proclaim them as bad boys and how their minds change. As the story begins, the narrator gives the impression that he feels he and the others boys should have taken notice of some obvious clues about themselves. These clues would have led them to the conclusion that they were far from the bad guys they wished to be. However, the oblivious teenagers ignore these obvious signs and continue in search of their goal. In this story, Boyle uses many symbols to create the theme. The individual vehicles are each symbols in the portion of the story that they appear.
For example, early in the story, the narrator describes the car they drive to Greasy Lake as an old station wagon, obviously not the "ride" of a true tough-guy. When the boys arrive at Greasy Lake, a "chopper" is parked on the shore, and next to it is a 57 Chevy (Boyle 113). Both of the vehicles are hot rods that imply a "greasy" image. The Chevy owner is a tough muscular character who beats the stuff out of the narrator and his friends. The biker, whom is regarded as a bad older character, is dangerous by stereotype alone. Consequently, the vehicles are representative of the individuals who drove them.
Another symbol of the danger the young men face is Greasy Lake itself. Dark, murky cold and disquieting, every aspect of it spells danger. Its glass-strewn shores and marshy shallows create a barrier only the reckless will dare to enter. It is a sign that nothing good lies within, as the narrator initially discovers when he seeks refuge in the water. The discovery of the biker's body is the turning point in not only the story, but also in the narrator's life.
In a short time, he has been beaten, has knocked out someone with a tire iron, almost raped a woman, found a dead body, and watched his mother's Bel Air station wagon be destroyed. Which was all done for the rush of excitement. While hiding in the water that was previously seen as a tarn of doom, with all the nights occurrences spinning in his head, he has an epiphany. Standing there he realizes what becomes of "tough-guys" and discovers that he has found his salvation within his true self. Accordingly, as the narrator emerges from Greasy Lake, he is a new person with a newly discovered perspective. As the sun is rising and the songs of birds replace the sounds of crickets, he leaves the pool of once dismal waters (Boyle 118).
This signals his rebirth and his baptism as a reformed adolescent. The narrator shares this story from his youth in the words of an educated man. His actions as a teen are in stark contrast to his phraseology as an adult. Early in the story, he viewed "nature" as sex, drugs and rock and roll (Boyle 112-113). However, as the story ends and the turmoil subsides, the narrator sees nature for the first time, through the eyes of a person matured by this traumatic experience. The "sun firing buds and opening blossoms" replaced the once revered beer and smoke (Boyle 118).
At the conclusion of this story, the girl from the Mustang comments to the narrator and his friends that they look like "some pretty bad characters" (Boyle 119). Upon hearing this statement they finally, as a group, realized that being a tough-guy requires much more than just looking like one. Accordingly, the fate of most tough-guys is similar to that of the floating biker. As if to confirm their transformation, the narrator and his friends, who earlier would have jumped at the opportunity, turn down the girls' offer of drugs and a good time.
The title in itself has the main points of the stories intertwined in it. By taking the words to their dictionary definition, they mean, slimy and a place to cleanse. It is a place of maturing and growth. "Greasy Lake" is an excellent story about the transformation of the mind and spirit through encounters of the body. "Greasy Lake" also encompasses the old saying, "be careful what you wish for, you just might get it".
Boyle, Tom Coraghessan. "Greasy Lake". Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 7th ed. New York: Longman, 1999.111-119.