Talk Talk

( 17 )

Overview

Over the past twenty-five years, T.C. Boyle has earned wide acclaim and an enthusiastic following with such adventurous, inimitable novels as The Tortilla Curtain, Drop City, and The Road to Wellville. For his riveting eleventh novel, Boyle offers readers the closest thing to a thriller he has ever written, a tightly scripted page turner about the trials of Dana Halter, a thirty-three-year-old deaf woman whose identity has been stolen. Featuring a woman in the lead role (a Boyle first), Talk Talk is both a ...

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Talk Talk

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Overview

Over the past twenty-five years, T.C. Boyle has earned wide acclaim and an enthusiastic following with such adventurous, inimitable novels as The Tortilla Curtain, Drop City, and The Road to Wellville. For his riveting eleventh novel, Boyle offers readers the closest thing to a thriller he has ever written, a tightly scripted page turner about the trials of Dana Halter, a thirty-three-year-old deaf woman whose identity has been stolen. Featuring a woman in the lead role (a Boyle first), Talk Talk is both a suspenseful chase across America and a moving story about language, love, and identity from one of America's most versatile and entertaining novelists.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Let us count the reasons why we love T. C. Boyle: quirky characters, plotlines that thrum with vibrancy, a gimlet-eyed view of human nature, and a way with words so dazzling it makes us giddy. One of the great high-wire walkers of contemporary fiction, Boyle now offers the enthralling story of a deaf woman who sets out with her new boyfriend on a surreal cross-country pursuit of the identity thief who has ruined her life. A suspense-filled caper filled with forays into many uncomfortable issues surrounding communication and identity, Talk Talk finds Boyle at the top of his provocative game.
From the Publisher
[Boyle's] most exciting novel yet. (The Washington Post, front page review)
Ron Charles
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.
— The Washington Post
Michiko Kakutani
Using his gift for manic invention and freewheeling, hyperventilated prose, Mr. Boyle does an antic job of recounting the cat-and-mouse-and-cat game played by Dana and Peck, wittily dancing around his theme of identity and identity theft, even as he orchestrates a sense of foreboding and suspense.
— The New York Times
New York Times
Funny, engaging, and suspenseful
Washington Post
[Boyle's] most exciting novel yet.
Los Angeles Times
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 twenty-first-century America.
USA Today
Starts off fast and never lets go.... Boyle once again delivers an entertaining story with his usual laser commentary.
San Francisco Chronicle
A tense thriller ... Talk Talk opens at full throttle and never slackens.
New York Times Book Review
Boyle takes the reader on a wild ride.
Publishers Weekly
Bestseller and PEN/Faulkner Award-winner Boyle recasts the battle of good and evil as an identity theft suspense story in his 11th novel (following The Inner Circle). Dana Halter, a "slim, graceful, dark-eyed deaf woman of thirty-three," runs a stop sign and is hauled off to jail when a routine police check turns up multiple pending felony charges. As Dana disappears into the criminal justice system, her earnest and willing boyfriend, Bridger (on deadline doing a sci-fi film's special effects), isn't much help. Meanwhile, William "Peck" Wilson-a social parasite whose lifestyle includes Armani, a house in Marin County and a shopaholic bombshell girlfriend imported from a former Soviet republic-is actually the man behind the charges against Dana. Finally out on bail and reunited with Bridger, Dana lacks the resources to clear her name, but in the best tradition of the good guy willing to sacrifice everything for justice, Bridger chucks his job, and the two set off on Peck's trail. Boyle, always a risk taker, neatly manages the challenge of a deaf protagonist and a bad guy who is a gourmet cook, genuinely loves his bombshell and has a soft spot for children. As Dana and Bridger hurtle across the country and the tension mounts, Boyle drops crumbs of wisdom in signature style, and readers will be hot on the trail. (On sale July 10) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In his latest work, Boyle (Drop City) explores the nightmare of identity theft as deaf teacher Dana Halter is pulled over for running a four-way stop sign and suddenly finds her life turned upside down. After days in a California jail, Dana is released when it is discovered that the "Dana Halter" who committed various crimes in various jurisdictions is a man. Dana and her digital filmmaker boyfriend, Bridger Martin, piece together information on the other Dana (n William "Peck" Wilson) and follow him across the country in order to exact retribution for what the justice system deems a "victimless crime." Dana's childhood insecurities resurface as others react to her as a deaf person in a hearing world, and she questions her ability to communicate who she really is. Even her relationship with Bridger, who learned to sign after they met, begins to fray as their odyssey turns into a vendetta and listening to each other takes a backseat to rage. Alternating chapters offer Peck's take on how easy it is (is this fact or fiction?) to reinvent oneself from a local outcast into a successful (fill in the blank) via the Internet and a bit of time on a library computer. 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. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/06.]-Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
On the surface, this novel of identity theft delivers page-turning suspense, but it also delves deeper into the essence of identity. Having explored the past for perspective on the present in recent novels (the Kinsey sex report in The Inner Circle, 2004; the hippie commune of Drop City, 2003), the prolific Boyle addresses the contemporary concern of identity theft, showing how easy it is for a cyber-criminal to appropriate someone else's identity and how difficult it can be for the victim to untangle the credit and criminal implications. Stopped for a traffic violation, deaf schoolteacher Dana finds herself jailed on charges she can't understand, for crimes committed in states she has never visited. Her only ally in clearing herself is Bridger, the boyfriend she recently met at a dance club. From her Kafkaesque predicament, Dana develops a Moby-Dick-sized obsession (both literary references are evoked within the novel) to find the criminal and regain her identity. When she and Bridger stumble upon some contact information on the perpetrator, they make a big mistake that threatens the novel's plausibility: They call the crook, letting him know they're onto him, rather than passing the information along for police to investigate. What results is a cross-country chase, as Dana and Bridger pursue a quarry who has serial identities, is totally self-centered (whatever self he has assumed) and is convinced that he is society's victim. He's a younger, psychopathic Gatsby, using his purloined wealth to forge an identity that attracts beautiful women whom he treats as identity accessories. The quest costs Dana her job and threatens Bridger's, as he discovers how little he really knows Dana, whileshe realizes how much she has defined her own identity as a deaf woman, as a daughter (her mother knows her in a way that Bridger never will) and as a victim. By the riveting climax, characters and readers alike recognize that the very concept of a fixed, static identity is a delusion.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143112150
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/26/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 686,711
  • Product dimensions: 5.09 (w) x 7.71 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

T. Coraghessan Boyle

T. C. Boyle is the author of eleven novels, including World's End (winner of the PEN/FaulknerAward), 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.

Biography

In the interest of time and space, it might be easier to note the writers that T. C. Boyle isn't compared to. But let's give the reverse a try: Donald Barthelme, John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, Evelyn Waugh, Franz Kafka, James Joyce, Kingsley Amis, Thomas Berger, Robert Coover, Lorrie Moore, Stanley Elkin, Tom Robbins, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, Don DeLillo, Flannery O'Connor.

Oh, let's not forget F. Lee Bailey. And Dr. Seuss.

Boyle, widely admired for his acrobatic verbal skill, wild narratives and quirky characters (in one short story, he imagines a love affair between Dwight Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev's wife), has dazzled critics since his first novel in 1981.

Consider this example, from Larry McCaffery in a 1985 article for The New York Times: "Beneath its surface play, erudition and sheer storytelling power, his fiction also presents a disturbing and convincing critique of an American society so jaded with sensationalized images and plasticized excess that nothing stirs its spirit anymore.... It is into this world that Mr. Boyle projects his heroes, who are typically lusty, exuberant dreamers whose wildly inflated ambitions lead them into a series of hilarious, often disastrous adventures."

But as much as critics will bow at his linguistic gifts, some also knock him for resting on them a bit too heavily, hinting that the impressive showmanship attempts to hide a shortage of depth and substance.

Craig Seligman, writing in The New Republic in 1993, pointed out that "Boyle loves a mess. He loves chaos. He loves marshes and jungles, and he loves the jungle of language: luxuriant sentences overgrown with lianas of lists, sesquipedalian words hanging down like rare fruits. For all its exoticism, though, his prose is lucid to the point of transparency. It doesn't require much deeper concentration than a good newspaper (though it does require a dictionary)."

Reviewing The Tortilla Curtain in 1995, New York Times critic Scott Spencer scratched his head over why Boyle had invited readers along for this particular ride: "Mr. Boyle's fictional strategy is puzzling. Why are we being asked to follow the fates of characters for whom he clearly feels such contempt? Not surprisingly, this is ultimately off-putting. Perhaps Mr. Boyle has received too much praise for his zany sense of humor; in this book, that wit often seems merely a maddening volley of cheap shots. It's like living next door to a gun nut who spends all day and half the night shooting at beer bottles."

Growing up, Boyle had no aspirations to be a writer. It wasn't until his studies at State University of New York, where he as a music student, that he bumped into his muse. "I went there to be a music major but found I really couldn't hack that at the age of 17," he told The Writer in 1999. "I just started to read outside my classes -- literature and history. I wound up being a history and English major; when I wandered into a creative writing class as a junior, I realized that writing was what I could do."

He then started teaching, in part to avoid getting drafted into the Vietnam War, and later applied to the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop.

After a collection of short stories in 1979, he released his first novel, Water Music, called "pitiless and brilliant" by The New Republic, and has shuttled back and forth between novels and short stories, all known for their explosions of character imagination. Mr. Boyle's literary sensibility ... thrives on excess, profusion, pushing past the limits of good taste to comic extremes," McCaffery wrote in his 1985 New York Times piece. "He is a master of rendering the grotesque details of the rot, decay and sleaze of a society up to its ears in K Mart oil cans, Kitty Litter and the rusted skeletons of abandoned cars and refrigerators."

In his review of Drop City, the 2003 novel set in California commune that won Boyle a National Book Award nomination, Dwight Garner joins the chorus of critical acclaim over the years – "Boyle has always been a fiendishly talented writer" – but he also acknowledges some of the criticism that Boyle has faced in these same years.

"The rap against Boyle's work has long been that he's a sort of madcap predator drone, raining down hard nuggets of contempt, sarcasm and bitter humor on the poor men and women in his books while rarely giving us characters we're actually persuaded to feel anything about," he wrote. "This is partly a bum rap -- and I'd hate to knock contempt, sarcasm and bitter humor -- but there's enough truth in it that it's a joy to find, in Drop City that Boyle gives us a lot more than simply a line of bong-addled innocents led to slaughter."

But perhaps the neatest summary of Boyle's work would be from Lorrie Moore, one of the novelists to which he has been compared. In a 1994 New York Times review of Boyle's short story collection Without a Hero, she praised Boyle's "astonishing and characteristic verve, his unaverted gaze, his fascination with everything lunatic and queasy."

"God knows, Mr. Boyle can write like an angel," she continues later, "if at times a caustic, gum-chewing one. And in this strong, varied collection maybe we have what we'd hope to find in heaven itself (by the time we begged our way there): no lessening of brilliance, plus a couple of laughs to mitigate all that high and distant sighing over what goes on below."

Good To Know

Boyle changed his middle name from John to Coraghessan (pronounced "kuh-RAGG-issun") when he was 17.

He is known almost as much for his ego as his writing. "Each book I put out, I think, 'Goodbye, Updike and Mailer, forget it," The New Republic quoted him as saying. "I joke at Viking that I'm going to make them forget the name of Stephen King forever, I'm going to sell so many copies.

Boyle's philosophy on reading and writing, as told to The Writer: "Good literature is a living, brilliant, great thing that speaks to you on an individual and personal level. You're the reader. I think the essence of it is telling a story. It's entertainment. It's not something to be taught in a classroom, necessarily. To be alive and be good, it has to be a good story that grabs you by the nose and doesn't let you go till The End."

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    1. Also Known As:
      T.C. Boyle
    2. Hometown:
      Santa Barbara California
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 2, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Peekskill, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A. in music, State University of New York at Potsdam, 1970; Ph.D. in literature, Iowa University, 1977
    2. Website:

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
Readers of T. C. Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain will recognize a familiar satiric target in his latest novel Talk Talk—the American dream. What better way to parody America’s ideology of self-reinvention, a vital component to the American dream, than with a story about identity theft? The subject also allows for Boyle to reexamine another bete noire, our culture’s crass consumerism, as well as address the anxieties of living in the information age, where one’s legal and financial identity is more vulnerable than ever before. But Talk Talk, while full of Boylesque humor, is not a satire at all. It is instead a book that reads with all the breathless, headlong pace of a thriller, while at the same time examining deeper questions of language and identity.

Talk Talk is centered on three main characters: Dana Halter, a deaf teacher of English literature; Bridger Martin, her boyfriend; and Peck Wilson, the career thief who steals Dana’s identity. The novel opens with Dana being pulled over for a routine traffic violation. A check on her driver’s license reveals Dana Halter to be a dangerous fugitive with a long rap sheet that includes auto theft and assault with a deadly weapon. Her identity has been stolen and, for the time being, she is powerless to prove it. After a weekend of incarceration, stripped of her rights, her clothes, and her dignity, Dana sees not only the idiocy of the justice system but also the fluid and fragile nature of identity. Prior to this episode her issues of selfhood dealt mainly with trying to pass for “normal” in a world of hearing. Now, viewed as “just another perp” by her jailors and cellmates, she is forced to restore her legal and financial identity, a process that will entail an intimate self-examination. Since the law enforcement agencies prove incapable or unwilling to apprehend the identity thief she decides to track him down herself.

Although aurally challenged, Dana has a mind for detective work. Her interest in the etymological roots of words (e.g. “disrespect” in the slang word “dis”) mirrors her search for the base identifier (in this case, the true name) of her assailant. Yet, at her journey’s end she discovers much more than the thief’s identity.

Bridger Martin, Dana’s boyfriend, joins her on this cross-country search for her criminal double. Issues of self-identity also plague Bridger. He spends most of his time working at a special-effects company under the alias of “Sharper.” His imagination and sense of reality is informed with the products of popular visual culture—film, TV, video games. When he learns of Dana’s incarceration he immediately conjures up stock scenes of prison films, such as slop being fed to prisoners out of a bucket. (Dana is actually fed bologna sandwiches.) Reality eventually confronts Bridger in the form of a real emotion—hate—upon seeing the face of Dana’s assailant for the first time. Suddenly, as Boyle suggestively phrases it, “the film has slipped off the reel.” The dangerous journey he takes also forces Bridger to confront real violence, not the celluloid kind to which he is accustomed. It is an experience that leaves him quite literally speechless.

Finally, there is William Peck Wilson, Dana’s assailant. Ever since he served a prison sentence for assaulting his ex-wife’s boyfriend, Peck has been a criminal, assuming so many identities it is hard for him to keep track of who he is at a given moment—Peck Wilson, Frank Calabrese, Dana Halter, Bridger Martin. His motto, taken from his prison mentor Sandman, is a corruption of the Army recruiting slogan (“Be anybody you can be”). As “Dana,” he resides in a lavish condo in Marin County with his sexy, if naïve, Russian girlfriend, Natalia, and her daughter, Madison. When he’s not devising new ways to pay for this lifestyle, he spends his time cultivating the refined tastes and sensibilities of the upper class. However, his California dream comes to an abrupt end when Dana and Bridger arrive at his home, forcing Peck to flee back east, where Sandman has secured him a stately house on the Hudson River, not far from the town he grew up in. His journey east mimics Dana’s as they both prepare to confront their mothers (Dana’s mother also lives in New York) and their past lives, with startlingly different results. For Dana, she learns to accept her deafness as her base identifier. For Peck, while recalling the life he had as a restaurant owner, husband, and father to his only daughter, Sukie, he painfully realizes the only identity he longs to (re)possess is that of fatherhood. Sadly, this identity has been irrevocably lost to him.

ABOUT T.C. BOYLE

T. C. Boyle is the author of eleven 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 stories regularly appear in The New Yorker, GQ, The Paris Review, Playboy, and Esquire. A five-time recipient of the O. Henry Award, he holds a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Iowa and an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Since 1978, he has taught in the English department at the University of Southern California.

A CONVERSATION WITH T.C. BOYLE
Q. Talk Talk is your first foray into thriller fiction. What attracted you to the genre? Do you have any plans on returning to it in the future?

A. I do not consider this “thriller fiction,” but rather just a thrilling read, like many of my stories and novels—the designation, I think, limits the reader’s expectations. Novels like Drop City and A Friend of the Earth are equally thrilling, as are many of my short stories, such as “Termination Dust” and “Killing Babies,” to name just a few. To my mind, the term “thriller” applies to books that focus on one level only—that of plot—while Talk Talk provides a rich subtext probing the question of what our identity is and how we know ourselves through language. It may be interesting to note that while most critics here saw The Tortilla Curtain as a socio-political novel, a number of critics in England called it a thriller. Amazing, no? It just goes to show you how limiting such designations can be.

Q. If I am not mistaken, Talk Talk is your first novel since World’s End set substantially in Westchester County, New York. Was there a particular reason you chose to return to the region of your upbringing for this novel?

A. Many of the characters in my novels and short stories hail from Peterskill, the fictional town I’ve created as a stand in for Peekskill (on the Hudson), where I was born and raised. Peterskill remains at the heart of my fiction, no matter where the stories take me, and I find comfort in returning to it whenever I can. Peck Wilson, like Tyrone Tierwater of A Friend of the Earth—like me—is a stranger in a strange land out here on the West Coast. No matter how long I live in California or how closely I am identified with its society and landscape, I will always see it slightly askew—that is, from the perspective of an Easterner, born and bred. I like the tension this slight disassociation lends to my work.

Q. As some critics have remarked, in its satire of the American dream Talk Talk shares much with your novel The Tortilla Curtain, first published in 1995. Has your opinion of the American dream changed since you wrote The Tortilla Curtain? Do you think the dream has changed?

A. What, exactly, is the American Dream and how do you prove it has come true (or failed) in your own life? I am a product of this dream, if you take it to mean that in a democracy such as ours social mobility is possible, that if you work hard enough and have the talent and education, you can succeed at what you put your mind to. All well and good. But for many—immigrants, especially, but also native-born Americans like Peck Wilson—the outward show of prosperity is all that matters. We are sold product from the day we are born till the day we die and the majority of ads imply that without one shining new thing or another we are somehow lesser people and woefully unfulfilled. It is easy to mistake the object for the reality. Dana’s dream, like Peck’s, is to be accepted in the larger society—or not simply accepted, but admired. And yet she goes about it in the old-fashioned way, working compulsively to overcome her difference and succeed on her own terms. Peck, with his narcissistic (sociopathic) personality, sees no reason to bother, when the fruit is there for the picking and the show is all.

Q. The ending of Talk Talk clearly upsets the conventions of thriller fiction. Why did you choose to create, then frustrate, that desire for revenge that runs through the novel?

A. Well, of course, for one thing I do not adhere to convention—I want always to surprise myself and, by extension, my readers. I do think, however, that some readers, in the mad, page-turning rush of this novel—breathing hard, ignoring the telephone—might just miss the subtlety and appropriateness of the ending of the Dana/Peck story. If this is a book that explores what it is to identify oneself—through language, as Dana does in a different way from hearing people and that Victor, the wild child, is never able to do—then it may be significant to think about the fact that the ending builds to the only moment of verbal communication between the antagonists. What do you want? Yes, and you can almost hear the waters rushing into that gulf. How could anyone put it into words?

Q. A question about the novel’s literary forebears. William Peck Wilson, the novel’s villain and double, is an allusion to Poe. Dana’s reciting of Poe’s “Annabel Lee” (the name of a character in Nabokov’s Lolita) then connects it to Lolita, another detective road novel, as it were, involving a doppelganger. Finally, Bridger Martin seems to reflect the eponymous hero of William Golding’s Pincher Martin, a character like Bridger with a skewed sense of reality. Could you talk briefly about these or any other literary works that influenced the writing of the novel?

A. Nice observation. Yes, I was, of course, referring to Poe’s doppelganger story and did have Nabokov’s Lolita in mind to a certain degree—not totally, but rather for its playfulness (which will be reflected much more fully in my next novel) and the fact that it is a classic American road novel, as you’ve stated.

Q.Your portrayal of Dana’s condition is very convincing. How much research did you conduct beforehand? Have you received any feedback from the deaf community about the book?

A. Once I discovered that Dana would be deaf, the whole book opened up for me in the way I’ve discussed above: we are our language and Dana’s language is very different from ours, a visuo-spatial language rather than an auditory one, and so she is more protective of her identity even than we might be. I had the great good fortune to be able to go to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., and meet with the students there while writing this book. I was also assisted by a friend who went deaf later in life and who has become an advocate of cochlear implants. I have indeed heard (listen to the prejudicial verb) from several people in the deaf community who felt that my portrayal was accurate and that it brought out some of their own feelings on the issue of their difference.

Q. Like Ned Rise in your early novel Water Music, Peck Wilson is a talented, resourceful, and lawless entrepreneur. Could you share your observations about the novelistic appeal of such characters? What is it that draws you to personae like these?

A. I am fascinated by this sort of personality. It is the same personality most novelists are saddled with, as were the real-life figures upon whom I’ve based past novels, Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey (The Inner Circle) and John Harvey Kellogg (The Road to Wellville). This is a personality type—narcissistic—which can help one focus on a given project in a very positive and compelling way, but which also, at its worst, does not allow empathy for anyone. That is, such figures, whether they be gurus, politicians, preachers or what have you, gather people to them only in pursuit of their own agenda. They cannot see any point of view but their own (and the ability to use point of view is what saves novelists from entering the realm of the casually evil, like Peck). What I like about Peck is his obliviousness. He doesn’t see himself as a bad guy, but rather just someone atop the Darwinian heap and fully welcome to all society’s rewards.

Q. Have the movie rights have been optioned for Talk Talk? You’ve seen at least one film adaptation before with The Road to Wellville. Does the idea of another film adaptation of one of your books fill you with excitement or trepidation?

A. Excitement, mais oui! All that color, that movement, the music, those faces!

I am happy to report that the movie rights were sold before the book was released. Universal Pictures has assigned a director, Gary Fleder, who has made several intriguing and fast-paced films (dare I call them thrillers without damning myself?) in the past. Many short films have been made of my work, with mixed results, and one major Hollywood film, The Road to Wellville, which I loved. I still think it’s one of the funniest movies ever made, very nearly ascending to the great height of The Big Lebowski, the apex of all funny movies. There are a number of films based on my stories and novels in the works, which I try to keep updated on tcboyle.com for any who may be interested.

Since I don’t participate in film work in any way—my job is to create fiction on the page and if I had nineteen lifetimes I don’t think I would ever get enough of it— I simply trust to the filmmakers and hope for the best.

Q. What are you working on now?

A. As I mentioned above, Nabokov has influenced my latest, especially his magical Pale Fire. As of this writing—in June of 2007—I am nearly finished with this book, another historical setting built around another of my egomaniacal (yes, and quintessentially narcissistic) real-life heroes, Frank Lloyd Wright. The book is called The Women, and it is written for the most part from the points of view of the four principal women in the architect’s life, as filtered, in a Nabokovian way, through a narrator who provides introductions to each of the three sections and a footnoted commentary throughout. He is an invented character named Tadashi Sato, who, in my telling, was one of Wright’s apprentices at Taliesin in the 1930s. I’m enjoying the opportunity to revisit Japanese culture, which I haven’t explored since 1990’s East Is East, and, with good conscience, eating plenty of sushi (or maybe with bad conscience, considering the global-warming and mass-extinction revelations of A Friend of the Earth). I should say too that the book is very, very funny, albeit necessarily tragic in the end.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • There is a great deal of brand-name dropping in this novel (e.g. Mercedes, Jetta), especially in scenes involving Peck and Natalia. Discuss Boyle’s satiric portrait of our culture’s conspicuous consumption. What is the relationship of designer brands and personal identity established in the novel?
     
  • “Base identifier” is a wonderfully suggestive phrase that is repeated throughout the novel. What are the base identifiers, in all senses of this phrase, of the main characters? How do the characters understand selfhood? How does the novel dramatize the fragile nature of personal identity?
     
  • Dana is post-lingually deaf (i.e. she was not born deaf), who refused surgical attempts to restore her hearing. Discuss her condition and her reasons for maintaining it. How does she understand her condition? How does Bridger; her mother? How does it contribute thematically to the novel?
     
  • Often in literature, film, or television, a character who doesn’t necessarily have many redeeming qualities will evoke pathos nonetheless. Although Peck Wilson is a man capable of brutal, calculated violence, he certainly arouses our interest, and at points, our sympathy. What was your opinion of Peck?
     
  • At four different points in the novel, Dana recites favorite poems to herself: Wallace Stevens’s “Peter Quince at the Clavier,” a sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edgar Allen Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” and Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan.” What is the significance of each of these poems to the narrative?
     
  • While ostensibly a road novel, Talk Talk is really a bicoastal novel. Discuss Boyle’s juxtaposition of East Coast and West Coast culture. What are Peck’s attitudes toward each? Do they resonate with you?
     
  • Sandman’s corruption of an Army recruiting slogan into a motto for identity thieves (“Be anyone you can be”) is one example of how America’s obsession with self- reinvention is parodied. What other examples come to mind? What do you think the novel says about our capacity, or lack thereof, to reinvent ourselves?
     
  • The scene at Peck’s mother’s house is both humorous and deeply disturbing. The naïve Natalia, full of the expectations and anxieties of a future daughter-in-law, is finally going to meet the mother of the man she hopes to marry, the man whose name she doesn’t even know. Did Boyle intend for this to be a comic scene? Why do you think he chose to omit Peck’s mother entirely from the scene?
     
  • Discuss the confrontation at the end of the novel. Why did Peck suddenly lose his nerve, the only instance in the entire novel? How do you interpret Peck’s answer to Dana’s seemingly simple question: “What do you want?” What is it about the ending that surprised you the most?
     
  • Dana and Bridger’s relationship is unusual, but like most couples their problems are generally problems of communication. What makes them unique and typical as a couple? Why does Bridger decide to join Dana on this perilous journey to find her identity thief? What happens to their relationship along the way and why does it ultimately fail?
     
  • In some respects Talk Talk is a variant of the doppelganger novel, a long-established literary convention in which the protagonist is haunted by the apparition of his or her double. Compare Talk Talk with other classic examples of the genre, such as Dostoyevsky’s The Double, Nikolai Gogol’s “The Nose,” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson.” Do you think Boyle has successfully updated this literary form for the twenty-first century?
     
  • Dana and Peck share a fascination with language, which isn’t matched by their respective partners. See for instance Peck’s recollection of the word “plebeian” and Dana’s interest in the etymology of “dis.” Besides this, do they have any other traits in common? At the end of the novel when they confront one another they are said to be “united, wedded.” What is it that unites them?
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 27, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    We Are Our Own Bosses

    Talk Talk by T.C. Boyle <BR/>Jayln Havill<BR/><BR/>We Are Our Own Bosses<BR/><BR/>One book I would definitely recommend reading would be T.C. Boyle's Talk Talk. This suspenseful piece of writing about stolen identities and a handicapped traveling the countryside to get her identity back puts us into the mind of an identity thief and their victim. T.C. Boyle's writing style in Talk Talk brings a lot of good things to the table. The way he puts two character's stories in one novel, and the way he intertwines them to make this enthralling book is one very unique way of writing. It's interesting how he is able to bring all of our emotions and thoughts inside of the writing and make us experience their pain and anger.<BR/><BR/>We first meet our main character, Dana Halter, a deaf teacher whose only way of surviving and income is teaching at a deaf school, is pulled over for running a stop sign. She thinks she's just going to be later than she was before for her appointment, but it all turns around in a time period of ten minutes, and finds herself being assisted into the backseat of a cop car and later losing all she has, including her job. She realizes that her identity has been stolen and her life will change for the worst due to this crime, unless she does something about it herself. T.C. Boyle doesn't bother with character introductions; he lets the character's actions do the talking, and lets the main problem of the book be introduced within the first few pages.<BR/><BR/>T.C. Boyle goes on with the rest of the book, telling about Dana and her computer animation specialist boyfriend, Bridger Martin, goes looking for the person who had stolen her identity. He also tells the story and life of the man who had stolen her identity, "Peck". He had gone through quite a bit of trouble to drive him toward committing the crime of stealing someone's identity. He was a failed restaurant owner and got into a little trouble for trying to vent some anger on his ex-wife's new husband. We learn both stories, and then T.C. Boyle does very interesting writing by combining both characters, Dana and "Peck's", present actions of "Peck" trying to escape from Dana and Dana and Bridger trying to catch "Peck".<BR/><BR/>When we read the book, we experience how hard it would be to have our identity stolen. I'm sure we would probably have an idea, but imagine that terrible thing happening to a handicapped person, a deaf person for example in this book. Dana Halter has always been strong about her difference from her peers; she always knew that she would be. But, when it comes to the misunderstanding of having her identity stolen, the government doesn't want to help her and she feels more ignored than before. Having this happen brings self-consciousness about her deafness, and is more worried and aware of what people may think of her due to her disability, and almost blames her disability for her identity being stolen. But she hangs on; she keeps fighting for her right to her own identity.<BR/> T.C. Boyle's theme he gets across in this novel can apply to all people, not just those who are handicapped. We learn that you have to fend for yourself in the end. No matter what your differences may be from others, or if you get babied all the time, you have to be able to be confident in yourself and be your own boss.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2007

    One of the Best Thrillers I've Read

    This book was incredible. The premise is totally new, the plot is fantastic and the writing is crisp and fast paced. You cannot put it down. It has fast become one of my favorite books to share with friends!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2012

    Sally

    Ill make u plenty horny. Im a fourteen year old virgin, brunette with chocolate brown eyes, huge 49 DD b o o b s, massive t i t s & a big round a z z just waiting to be spanked. Are ya horny now?

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Awesome Awesome

    I really enjoyed this book. To this day I can't remember how I came across this book but I'm glad I did. The characters were very well developed, there was a clear plot and a wonderfully designed villain. I couldn't put the book down until the end. Some people (and by some people I mean my boyfriend) didn't like the ending but it was semisweet and perfect for the tone of Talk Talk.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2006

    Love This Book

    How can you not love this book. A timely matter 'theft identity' and a love story. I thought Bridger loved Dana more than she loved him. He went to great lengths to stand by her, and it seemed to be her way or no way. TC Boyle has magic with his charaters, I feel like I know them, even slimy 'Peck' and Natalia. I could not put this book down. What happened at the end, well you can make it up in your own head. Bravo TC

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2006

    Talk about Talk Talk

    I had the privilege of listening to TC Boyle read the first chapter of Talk Talk at the Barnes and Noble in Lincoln Center on July 10th, and it is the day after my day of reading Talk Talk... Now that I have slept on it I still marvel at TC Boyle's imagination that often seems unlike any others and the carefully orchestrated (even if grown organically) design of each of his creations. His imagination literally pieces together bits of data and observations after pondering a topic. TC Boyle shared with event goers how he 'worries about everything all the time,' and it appears that he might just worry about all kinds of people in all kinds of conditions impaired, sociopathic, aliens, split family members, hard working people who get ripped off... the list seems endless as evidenced in his empathy towards all the characters in Talk Talk. I was drawn to Bridger because he fell for Dana without realizing she was deaf and remained faithfully by her side throughout this tale. This character for me stays true to his name, bridging two worlds with a solid foundation. Similar to a junior high kid, Peck is hellbent on trying on everyone else's identity, in effect stealing the most precious thing we all have...ourselves. In my mind Dana is not the main character, but a supporting cast member to the meat of the story...our senses and how they define who we are at times. Talk...is communication, whether it be oral, or body language Taste...is subjective Hearing...is not always with our ears Seeing...with our eyes and our minds Touch...a brush up against someone can communicate (Talk Talk) volumes

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 21, 2012

    Not a fan

    I had to read this for school, and I'm not a fan. It's very depressing and frustrating.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2012

    Mystery

    Gtg

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2012

    Rose

    Im bck too i passed out cold last night >.< Sorry

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2012

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    Posted May 16, 2009

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    Posted January 14, 2010

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    Posted October 19, 2008

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    Posted July 25, 2010

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    Posted February 19, 2011

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    Posted August 13, 2009

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    Posted January 18, 2010

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    Posted October 25, 2008

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    Posted January 17, 2010

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    Posted September 16, 2011

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