August 2006

Angela Stubbs

fiction

Talk Talk by T.C. Boyle

T. Coraghessan Boyle’s new novel about identity theft is perfect for the day and age we live in. You never know when someone will become desperate enough to steal your credit card, ATM pin number or trash so they can live better lives by taking what’s yours. Talk Talk is Boyle’s eleventh novel and in it he exposes fears that most humans have when it comes to their personal lives and maintaining privacy. Talk Talk is a fast-paced novel that takes us on a psychological road bender that keeps a frenzied pace until we reach the last few pages. Like all good novels, this one has injustice and redemption, but more importantly, a hero and a villain that you can sympathize with.

The word wizardry that Boyle is known for comes alive in the initial pages of Talk Talk where we find Dana Halter, a deaf high-school instructor who keeps record of Latin roots and possesses a substantial vocabulary chock full of words you need a dictionary for. She inadvertently runs a stop sign while on the way to the dentist and winds up getting pulled over for what would seem to be a small infraction by the law’s standards. She realizes in seconds that she’s in far bigger trouble than she’d imagined. Guns are drawn, handcuffs are locked onto her wrists and Dana is unclear as to what just happened.

This is the beginning of a world turned upside down for Dana. She had no idea what was about to unfurl, only that the cop’s “body language was different, radically different, the stiffness gone out of his legs, his shoulders hunched forward and his feet stalking the gravel with exaggerated care.” Being arrested was embarrassing enough, but not knowing why made her anxiety levels rise and her fear of the unknown kept her mind racing. It’s not until a sign-language interpreter arrives downtown at the police-station that Dana realizes she’d been arrested due to mistaken identity. She is informed by a cop of the felony complaints and warrants for her arrest in “Marin County, Tulare and LA counties, and out of state too -- in Nevada, Reno and Stateline.”

These warrants are for a man using Dana’s name, of course, but these crimes, among them drug possession, check fraud and assault are also attached to one Dana Halter. At the time of her arrest, Dana repeatedly asks the cop arresting her, “Don’t you know who I am?!” For the remaining 330 pages, this question becomes the one thing she’ll have to prove in order to get her life back.

Boyle’s protagonist is smart and he’s given her a Ph.D. and the ability to use words like, “exophthalmia” in everyday conversation as proof that she’s no dummy. This should come as no surprise as the majority of Boyle’s work tends to bubble over with unheard of, multi-syllabic words.  It takes a smart woman like Dana, along with her boyfriend/CGI master, Bridger Martin to figure out how they’ll go about finding the man that’s been living her life for the past two years. These two regular, law-abiding citizens set out on this mad adventure to take back Dana’s identity and in the midst turn into a less violent, crime solving Thelma and Louise. It’s on this madcap, action-packed chase that we see Boyle make ordinary places interesting. During the course of Talk Talk, whether it’s the inside of a jail cell or the back seat of a police car, Boyle makes the reader feel as if we’re right there experiencing every moment.

Our villain, William “Peck” Wilson is a man who has grown accustomed to the finer things in life, all on everyone’s dime but his own. There is not one thing that Peck owns that hasn’t been paid for with stolen credit cards. As Boyle explains, all he’s ever wanted was to have this fairy-tail life of “fulfillment and domestic bliss” and there’s fragility to the life that he’s created. People like Dana and Bridger are exactly what and whom he’s afraid of. Boyle keeps this story fresh by alternating between narrators Dana and Peck. It’s evident Peck’s numbing the pain of having lost the restaurant he operated and other failures by satiating this void with more material objects than his home can hold. Boyle doesn’t waste time illuminating the issues that plague Peck. He explains that Peck is the kind of guy who lives in his own fantasy world where preparing gourmet meals for his girlfriend and wearing Armani are tangible in his mind.  He’s a materialistic whore that has an addiction to buying things which give him some sort of screwy self-worth and importance. Without the capacity or means to buy what he wants and as much as he wants, his soul practically evaporates. Peck is a pariah in the truest sense of the word.

When Dana and Bridger finally catch up with Peck, there is an intrinsic anger that resonates as he realizes his life of luxury may very well be coming to an end. The question herein remains, how and when did Peck Wilson take over the life Dana Halter knew to be hers alone? Boyle creates an emotionally charged meeting between Peck and Dana and Bridger that ensues in subsequent car chases and potential violence. Peck is unrelenting when it comes to facing his demise. He will go down kicking and screaming and his dreams of success and stability will, once again, be shattered. It’s in the final chapters that Peck and Dana, while vastly different people find themselves with an internal push-pull where change is a must.

Talk Talk indicates a double meaning both in spoken word and action, demonstrating a type of duality that exists in all of us. The dichotomy here is that a criminal like Peck Wilson and schoolteacher like Dana Halter have more in common than they’d like to think. Peck has a life where people believe him to be a successful man with excellent taste, but underneath it all he’s a fraud who’ll eventually be exposed.

Dana remains torn between accepting her deafness and wanting others to do the same, yet she gets angry when she can’t camouflage it in a way that makes others think she’s just like them.

In Talk Talk, Boyle addresses why we want acceptance and how we go about attaining it. All too often we base our identity on the way others view us when our human instincts tell us otherwise. Whether we’re deaf or defeated it doesn’t change the fact that our identity remains a crucial part of our life and when it’s altered in any way, we become vulnerable, leaving one’s faith in humanity to see each of us for who we really are.

Talk Talk by T.C. Boyle
Viking Press
ISBN: 0670037702
340 Pages