Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Book Report: "Talk Talk" by T.C. Boyle

The hardest thing about being an unconsecrated novelist for the highway scribe, is being an unconsecrated novelist.

Or at least it used to be. There is nothing more boring after 20 years of scribbling to sit around and stew in one’s own bitter brew of what writer Steve Almond calls “fame angst.”

In the end, all the clich├ęs apply. As an artist, you’re not racing anybody, rather engaged in a most particular and personal journey of learning that has nothing to do with other creatives.

The point being that the scribe is at a good place where he knows being the BEST BIGGEST WRITER IN THE WORLD, COUNTRY, STATE (or just on the block), is an illusory goal, that such things are hard to quantify, least of all through immediate commercial success.

And so it’s nice to sit and read a novel by someone like T.C. Boyle, with fame and many, many more novels and achievements to his credit than the scribe, and simply be able to enjoy it for the good writing it is, as opposed to the good writing it is next to the scribe’s equally good writing etc.

the scribe’s sister Rosemany (Ro) sent Boyle’s latest, Talk Talkas a gift for Christmas.

Ro turned the scribe onto Boyle with a book of short stories she loaned him a few years ago. the scribe took it to a Boyle reading and had the author sign it to the sister, which he sent back to her. It (the book) soon found its way to another Boyle reading on the very same tour, but in Boston.

One of us (probably her) must have made an impression because a minor character in “Talk Talk” is a pizza chef named, Skip Siciliano.

Anyway, who the hell cares about that. “Talk Talk,” is a wonderful novel and a great read. Go out and get it and rip through it the way the scribe did.

Boyle’s been at this for so long, done so many (he’s at a clip of one novel per year), that “Talk Talk” reads like he wrote it off the top of his head in a weekend.

The story is simple enough: a deaf woman is a victim of identity theft. She and her digital nerd boyfriend take off to parts mostly unknown in search of the thief, and wind up on the other side of the country, in new lives not easily shaken off.

Super contemporary, there’s something almost “potboiler-ish” about this story of Dana Halter, Dana Halter, and Bridger Martin. No tricks, no experimentation: a straight narrative that only on occasion pulls up to provide a little background, but this, too, is done seamlessly.

Despite the straight ahead and forging plot, the literature is there, so unobtrusively, it serves as a great lesson for scribes both aspiring and accomplished.

It’s there in the neat contrasting Boyle achieves by switching back and forth between Dana and Bridger, the identity theft victims, and Dana Halter (nee, Will Peck Williams) the identity thief.

If taste is the same as class, a low-rent upstate New York boy, can certainly acquire class. Williams knows about the best things (or at least the agreed-upon best things) and possesses them thanks to his excellent performance as a thief of personhood.

As Dana and Bridger sleep in crappy motels, eat crappier food, and wear thin the fabric of the strained relationship (she is, after all, deaf), Dr. Halter (that’s Peck Williams) bones his beautiful Russian wife after preparing dinners described with such culinary delectation by Boyle that one finds their gastronomic juices flowing again and again.

“Talk Talk,” will make you hungry if you don’t eat ahead of time.

The literature is found in the dead-on contrast between central California’s coastal world and the muggy, mossy, watery summers of upstate New York.

It’s there in the simple metaphors, verbal and contextual, that Boyle constructs so easily.

Of course, if you’ve read Terry Eagleton, you know literature can’t truly be defined.

As has been suggested, the story is simple enough. A road movie if you will, with the images in your mind instead of on-screen. Dana and Bridger follow their antagonist all the way back to upstate New York, the thief’s identity (or lack thereon) begins to unravel in both the public and private sense as they slowly, almost unwittingly corner him.

He’s stolen identities before and things have gone smoothly. He’s just never done it to someone as persistent as Dana Halter.

Boyle’s end has good guys and bad, while still dishing out the right touch of ambiguity and space for personal interpretation that elevates “Talk Talk” just above a thin yarn.

It’s hard to know where he’s going until the end when Bridger, now single, spends a moment graphically exalting his ex-girlfriend Dana on his weapon of the choice, the computer screen. Dana’s personal quest has cost him, and others, dear and the obstinacy with which she pursues the man who had her temporarily jailed makes those around Dana want to wring her neck.

“Talk Talk,” is what deaf people call their own conversational get togethers and, at the end, we realize Boyle has given us a portrait in deafness; the soul of someone defined by the silent yet histrionic world around them; the portrait of a learning curve and final product somewhat beyond the norm.

A story about the special someone, and then some.

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