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Talk Talkby T. C. Boyle
"If you are one of the 26.5 million veterans whose personal information was on that stolen laptop, stop reading right now. And under no circumstances should you buy Talk Talk, the latest novel by T. C. Boyle. The rest of us, though, will certainly enjoy the PEN-Faulkner Award-winner's satirically clever take on that most modern of crimes, identity theft. (Although be warned: Side effects include a creeping feeling of paranoia and an overwhelming urge to purchase a shredder.)" Yvonne Zipp, The Christian Science Monitor (read the entire CSM review)
"The idea of Dana Halter chasing Dana Halter has the makings of a postmodern house of mirrors — at least until the thief quickly sheds Halter's name, abandoning with it Boyle's typical authorial puzzle and any sense of palpable predicament. What ensues is a soggy, spiritless chase from West Coast to East....In the end, ironically, it's the thief's loss that we care about, not Halter's. That might be Boyle's point. But if so, it's also the fleshiest, most intriguing crime in the book." Tom Chiarella, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
"Compelling characters, a plot built for speed, a canvas that stretches coast to coast — all the ingredients for a gripping tale are here. Yet Boyle is his own worst enemy....Boyle's fatal addiction to adjectival clauses and piled-on explanatory metaphors slows the story down even more. And under the made-for-TV script and lumbering prose lurks an essentially adolescent vision of male-female relations: women are enigmatic forces of nature that no man can hope to understand, let alone control. Still the bright young Turk, Boyle may have grown older, but he has yet to grow up." Scott Prater, Atlantic Monthly (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review)
Synopses & Reviews
The bestselling author of The Inner Circle and Drop City returns with a timely new novel about a woman in desperate pursuit of a man who has stolen her identity.
The first time Bridger saw Dana she was dancing barefoot, her hair aflame in the red glow of the club, her body throbbing with rhythms and cross-rhythms that only she could hear. He was mesmerized. That night they were both deaf, mouthing to each other over the booming bass. And it was not until their first date, after he had agonized over what CD to play in the car, that Bridger learned that her deafness was profound and permanent. By then, he was falling in love.
Now she is in a courtroom, her legs shackled, as a list of charges is read out. She is accused of assault with a deadly weapon, auto theft, and passing bad checks, among other things. Clearly there has been a terrible mistake. A man — his name is William "Peck" Wilson, as Dana and Bridger eventually learn — has been living a blameless life of criminal excess at Dana's expense. And as Dana and Bridger set out to find him, they begin to test to its limits the life they have started to build together.
Talk Talk is both a thrilling road trip across America and a moving story about language, love, and identity from one of America's finest novelists.
"If stories about missing government laptops and hacked databases have got you shredding your bank statements and paying cash at restaurants, brace yourself for another jolt of paranoia. T. Coraghessan Boyle's new novel about identity theft is so perfectly aligned with the day's news that the FBI should search his house for stolen credit cards. 'Talk Talk' grabs hold of the fragile structures that... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) establish who we are and what we own and shakes them apart. Considering Boyle's recent subjects — sex research ('The Inner Circle'), hippies ('Drop City'), environmental apocalypse ('A Friend of the Earth') — it's remarkable that his most exciting novel yet should focus on the tedium of ruined credit scores and fraudulent drivers' licenses. But 'Talk Talk' benefits from Boyle's highbrow/lowbrow style: He knows how to drill down through the surface of everyday life into our core anxieties, and he knows how to write constantly charging, heart-thumping chase scenes. 'She was running late,' the novel opens, and she and the novel rarely stop running for the next 340 pages. Dana Halter is a deaf woman and a proud, conscientious teacher at a school for the deaf. When a police officer stops her for driving through a red light one morning, her main concern is that she'll miss an appointment. But then she sees him in the rearview mirror, gun drawn, barking orders at her. In a flash he yanks her from the car, shoves her face into the hood and clamps cuffs on her. 'He was brisk, brutal, sparing nothing,' Boyle writes. 'There might have been questions, orders, a meliorating softness in his tone, but she couldn't hear and she couldn't see his face — and her hands, her hands were caught like fish on a stringer.' For Dana, this is the beginning of a life-wrecking encounter with local government — an experience made all the more Kafkaesque by the fact that no one is willing to listen to her toneless speech or speak to her in a way she can understand. 'There must be some mistake,' she keeps yelling. 'Don't you know who I am?' That question haunts the entire novel. Boyle begins with the merely bureaucratic elements of identity, but soon he teases out the more profound ramifications of who we are and how we prove it. Just by dragging Dana into the station and chaining her to a bench, the police transform her from a respected teacher of the deaf, with a Ph.D. in English literature, to a 'freak of nature, a talking dolphin or a ventriloquist's dummy come to life ... just another criminal — another perp — one more worthless case to be locked away and ignored.' When someone who speaks sign language finally arrives, Dana learns that she's wanted in multiple counties, over two states, for crimes ranging from auto theft to possession of a controlled substance to assault with a deadly weapon. It's clear that she's a victim of identity theft — those warrants for Dana Halter are for a man, after all — but the humiliation she suffers is no less real, and the wheels of justice must keep turning through the correct procedures no matter how senseless. 'The onus is on you to defend yourself,' a counselor tells Dana. Boyle is very good at choreographing the ghastly cascade of complications that can bury a person. With the same research and descriptive skill that's allowed him to bring historical periods alive, he takes us to those ordinary, contemporary places we all know about but rarely see: the county jail, the criminal courtroom, the impound yard, that great tangle of legal services that were vaguely in favor of — if we're aware of them at all — until we're snagged up in them ourselves and robbed of that most precious commodity: time. Because she's arrested on a Friday, Dana ends up spending the weekend in jail, a frightening experience that inflames her with a deep rage. When she finally arrives back at school, she's fired, which makes her anger burn even hotter. Determined to track down the man who caused all these problems, she asks her boyfriend, a special-effects artist named Bridger Martin, for help. How marvelously apropos that when Bridger gets her call, he's busy 'working on a head replacement' — using a computer to superimpose the face of an actor over the white helmet of a stuntman. It's a witty expression of Boyle's larger theme about the instability of identity, a theme he fleshes out in fascinating ways once Dana and Bridger begin their cross-country search for the man who ruined her life. At this point, the novel begins periodically switching to the story of William 'Peck' Wilson, who has been using the name Dana Halter for the past two years. Boyle followed this structure in what remains his most popular novel, 'The Tortilla Curtain,' as he moved back and forth between the tales of a Mexican immigrant and a frightened suburbanite, but here the antagonists would seem to be on very different moral grounds, a situation that makes his treatment of the criminal that much more provocative. Peck is a tough, proud man who lost his daughter and restaurant in an acrimonious divorce and learned the simple tricks of identity theft in prison. (Looking for quick cash? Boyle lays out these techniques with helpful clarity.) When we meet Peck, he's living well on strangers' credit, all easily accessed over the Internet: 'His money was good,' Boyle writes, 'he tipped large, he always dressed in a nice Armani jacket when he came in for dinner and his girlfriend was a knockout.' He wants nothing more than to feel 'the quiet seep of fulfillment and domestic bliss.' After all, he's only taking those Army recruitment ads one step further: 'Be anybody you can be.' As Dana and Bridger close in on him, it's not just his clothes, his car and his beautiful condo that are at risk, it's his sense of himself as a respected, successful person. Yes, he's a hothead, a snob and a thief, but 'Talk Talk' works because Boyle brings us in close enough to smell Peck sweat. His refined tastes are our tastes, his suburban dreams are our dreams, his professional aspirations are our aspirations — the only problem is that his money is our money. In Boyle's daringly sympathetic portrayal, Peck is just as outraged at Dana and Bridger as they are at him. 'He hated being forced out,' Boyle writes, 'hated the miserable interfering sons of bitches who'd come after him and turned everything upside down.' The law may be on their side, but Peck's not giving up without a fight, and he knows a lot more about fighting than either the English teacher or the computer nerd. In the alternating chases that threaten exposure or violence, the excitement is not so much doubled as squared. Even in the midst of these tire-squealing scenes, though, Boyle keeps sounding out the issues that deepen this novel. For all her justified outrage at Peck's illicit way of life, Dana is engaged in her own conflicted program of personal revision: She proudly insists that being deaf is an integral part of her identity, a part she wouldn't change, a part Bridger must accept and love. 'This is me,' she pleads with him. But at the same time, she has devoted all her energy to passing as a hearing person. Her bitterest moments come when she realizes that someone she's talking to has detected her difference. The current perils of Internet security give 'Talk Talk' a timely hook, but there's nothing ephemeral about the novel. After all, one of the oldest stories in Western culture turns on identity theft and credit fraud. When Jacob put that goat skin on his arms and tricked his father into giving him the blessing meant for Esau, the problem wasn't poor password protection; it was our insatiable desire to be and have more than we deserve. In this bracing novel, Boyle makes that problem loud and clear. Ron Charles is a senior editor of The Washington Post Book World." Reviewed by Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"On the surface, this novel of identity theft delivers page-turning suspense, but it also delves deeper into the essence of identity....By the riveting climax, characters and readers alike recognize that the very concept of a fixed, static identity is a delusion." Kirkus Reviews
"[F]unny, engaging and suspenseful, and sadly undermined by a forced, slap-dash ending that feels as if it had been grafted on at the last minute in a desperate effort to find some way of bringing this novel to a close." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"The early chapters are a Kafkaesque horror story of bewildering accusations, sullen cops, and loony cellmates....The novel flies along on the power of Boyle's propulsive and exquisitely perceptive prose. (Grade: B)" Entertainment Weekly
"[Boyle] delivers a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat thriller....He proves that he can muster his literary chops to maintain the tension as well as any old pro of the genre." The Oregonian (Portland, OR)
"The continuity errors distracted this reviewer, and missing details make the novel more frustrating than riveting. Still, Boyle's many fans will probably want to go along for the ride." Library Journal
"For all their literary flair, Boyle's books feature honest-to-God plots....And for those who like a little literary meat in their summer page-turners, Boyle's knack for nuanced and intelligent characterization and language hasn't deserted him here." Rocky Mountain News
"[Boyle's] fixation on the foodie habits of his characters is emblematic of how Boyle's work suffers when...he tries to define people's status by what they buy and eat as opposed to more timeless measures." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Talk Talk stands out as nothing short of an uncomfortable masterpiece — as simultaneously overwhelming, treacherous, beautiful and boiling over with hellacious revelation as its ultimate subject: life in 21st century America." Los Angeles Times
"Boyle once again delivers an entertaining story with his usual laser commentary....It is a bonus with his writing: Beyond the plot is this underworld of fanciful words, at the ready to send a reader straight to Webster's." USA Today
"Don't be fooled by its title: There's nothing chatty about T.C. Boyle's 11th novel. Talk Talk is his least discursive, most tautly paced book to date....Talk Talk opens at full throttle and never slackens." San Francisco Chronicle
"Boyle takes readers on a wild ride where sensation and thirst for justice overwhelm the need for likelihood....Unlike less confident writers, he never begs for a reader's sympathy on behalf of his protagonists." New York Times
"Boyle's carefully cadenced sentences unwind in bursts of thought that almost tumble out of control, mimicking an unruly inner voice, bringing the reader inside the character's mind and heart." Chicago Sun-Times
"Boyle's energetic style will keep you reading, even when you think you know what's going to happen next. The truth is, you probably don't." Dallas Morning News
The brilliant and acclaimed New York Times bestseller from the author of The Women and When the Killingand#8217;s Done
Just off the coast of Southern California, two familiesand#151;one in the 1880s and one in the 1930sand#151;come to desolate, windswept San Miguel Island in search of self-reliance, freedom, and a new start in their lives. Both Marantha Waters and Elise Lester strive to help their war veteran husbands pursue their dreams but must themselves grapple with the more nebulous hardships of raising a family in brutal isolation. Boyle and#147;skillfully captures that tension-filled quietudeand#8221; (The New Times Book Review) in this lyrical, intimate, and unforgettable novel.
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Women, a historical novel about three women’s lives on a California island
On a tiny, desolate, windswept island off the coast of Southern California, two families, one in the 1880s and one in the 1930s, come to start new lives and pursue dreams of self-reliance and freedom. Their extraordinary stories, full of struggle and hope, are the subject of T. C. Boyle’s haunting new novel.
Thirty-eight-year-old Marantha Waters arrives on San Miguel on New Year’s Day 1888 to restore her failing health. Joined by her husband, a stubborn, driven Civil War veteran who will take over the operation of the sheep ranch on the island, Marantha strives to persevere in the face of the hardships, some anticipated and some not, of living in such brutal isolation. Two years later their adopted teenage daughter, Edith, an aspiring actress, will exploit every opportunity to escape the captivity her father has imposed on her. Time closes in on them all and as the new century approaches, the ranch stands untenanted. And then in March 1930, Elise Lester, a librarian from New York City, settles on San Miguel with her husband, Herbie, a World War I veteran full of manic energy. As the years go on they find a measure of fulfillment and serenity; Elise gives birth to two daughters, and the family even achieves a celebrity of sorts. But will the peace and beauty of the island see them through the impending war as it had seen them through the Depression?Rendered in Boyle’s accomplished, assured voice, with great period detail and utterly memorable characters, this is a moving and dramatic work from one of America’s most talented and inventive storytellers.
About the Author
T. C. Boyle is the author of twelve novels, including World's End (winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award), Drop City (a New York Times bestseller and finalist for the National Book Award), and The Inner Circle. His most recent story collections are Tooth and Claw and The Human Fly and Other Stories.
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