Review

Talk Talk

by T. C. Boyle



With TALK TALK, his eleventh novel, T.C. Boyle has constructed
another literate, thoughtful page-turner. The protagonist is Dana
Halter, an independent, feisty, attractive woman in her early 30s.
She teaches school, enjoys an occasional evening out at loud
nightclubs, and has a younger boyfriend named Bridger Martin who
adores her. In short, she's a normal, responsible young woman who
also happens to be profoundly deaf. The problem is that apparently
there's another Dana Halter out there, as she discovers when
she's arrested after running a stop sign. This other Dana Halter
passes bad checks in multiple states with her driver's
license number, her social security number. And this Dana
Halter has skipped bail twice. So despite Bridger's best efforts,
Dana spends a humiliating, uncomfortable weekend in the San Roque
county jail.

"Dana Halter" is only one of the identities that the antagonist
Peck Wilson has collected in the years since he was released from
prison in New York State. As the book opens, Peck lives as Dr. Dana
Halter in a Marin County waterfront condo furnished with nothing
but the best for his kitchen (he's a very gourmet sociopath) and
his bed (a Russian beauty named Natalia.) He is an old hand at
identity theft and manages them carefully, wringing them almost dry
before moving on and covering his tracks.

When the real Dana is finally released from jail, she finds that
the authorities aren't overly concerned with prosecuting this
so-called victimless crime. It's up to her and Bridger to retrieve
her impounded car and field phone calls from irate creditors. But
Bridger acquires the thief's cell phone number from one such
creditor and makes contact. Peck, wanting to cut his losses,
informs the wary Natalia that his name is not Dana after all, and
trades in her BMW Z4 on a wine-colored Mercedes S500 for their
escape from town. Thus begins a cat-and-mouse, Jetta vs. Mercedes
chase across the continent that culminates in a final showdown of
sorts at a train station in Peck's hometown of Peterskill, New
York.

The plot packs a wallop matched by Boyle's inventive language and
multi-faceted, believable characters. Dana's "handicap" has made
her tough and stubborn; we see the tremendous effort it takes to
make herself understood, and how frustrated she gets when she
can't. Bridger has learned to sign and she reads lips, but under
the fatigue and uncertainty they face, sometimes communication
between them breaks down. The thief, Peck, wears his sense of
entitlement as naturally and easily as his Italian suits, and in
the long stretches of narrative from his point of view, we are
equally fascinated and repulsed by his absolute disregard for
anyone but himself. Natalia, who he thinks he loves, is really just
another fine possession, more complicated than a car perhaps, but
manageable by charming lies or threatening fury.

T.C. Boyle is in fine fettle here. He can linger on a character's
momentary interior state for a page and a half without boring us,
because he can also cover a few days effectively in a single
paragraph. Boyle's cleverness makes us smile. "At the impound yard
--- CASH OR CREDIT ONLY NO CHECKS --- they waited in line for
twenty minutes while the people in front of them put on a
demonstration of the limits and varieties of hominid rage." And his
incisive similes keep us firmly in a character's head. Here is Peck
in an ecstatic mood: "Then it was back down what had to be one of
the most scenic highways in the world, the road sliced right out of
the side of the mountain like a long abdominal suture holding the
two pieces together, and the view had never seemed so exotic to
him, sailboats on the river like clean white napkins on a big blue
tablecloth, the light portioning out the sky in pillars of
fire."

TALK TALK succeeds because it ponders the mysteries of identity and
communication while seducing the reader with that most primal of
motives: revenge. Will Dana have it, and if she does, what will it
cost her? Or will the wily Peck slip under the radar once
again?

Reviewed by Eileen Zimmerman Nicol on January 23, 2011

Talk Talk
by T. C. Boyle

  • Publication Date: June 26, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0143112155
  • ISBN-13: 9780143112150