T.C. Boyle

"Talk Talk"

(Reviewed by Guy Savage AUG 5, 2007)

"She heard nothing. She lived in a world apart, her own world, a better world, and silence was her refuge and her hard immutable shell and she spoke to herself from deep in the unyielding core of it. That was her essence, her true self, the voice that no one could detect even if they wore the highest-decibel hearing aids or cochlear implants or marched thunderously through the world of the hearing. That they couldn’t touch. Nobody could."

Several years ago, my credit card statement arrived, and I was astonished to see a large amount on the bill for a yacht rental in Florida. It had been a decade since I’d last visited that state, and I’m not exactly the luxury type traveler. I immediately got on the phone and disputed the charge. Eventually, the owner of the yacht entered the fray with the argument that even though I’d cancelled the trip, I forfeited the deposit. Affidavits and photocopies went back and forth. Eventually, the several thousand-dollar charge was dropped, and although the mystery of why this happened was never solved, the problem was over. I was, I suppose, lucky. Sometimes one incident like this can herald in the nightmare of identity theft. In this day and age of data collection, and data selling (both practices I am vehemently opposed to), identify theft is an ever-growing, lucrative crime. And if you’ve ever known a victim of identity theft (as I have), you know from bitter experience that as far as law enforcement is concerned, you are on your own.

Read excerptT.C. Boyle’s wonderful novel Talk Talk, is a tale of what happens to one woman when her identity is stolen. Dana Halter is an accomplished young woman. She’s attractive, working on a novel in her spare time, and works as a teacher in an exclusive school for the deaf in San Roque, California. Dana is also deaf. Fiercely independent, her life’s accomplishments are testament to her tenacity and will to succeed. Dashing off to the dentist’s one morning, she is pulled over for a routine traffic matter, and promptly arrested. Handcuffed and hustled off to county jail, she faces a list of charges ranging from assault with a deadly weapon to passing bad checks and auto theft. And this is how Dana discovers that her identity has been stolen. Unfortunately, for Dana, the thief has gone beyond just plain identity theft. Dana discovers that she’s a victim of Identity Takeover--there’s someone somewhere who’s living under her identity, who’s created an entirely fake life using Dana’s past.

Thanks to the stain left by the incident, it becomes clear to Dana that her life has, literally, been stolen. After she loses her job, enraged, and frustrated by the lack of interest from the police, Dana decides to search for the thief, and she drags her boyfriend, Bridger Martin into the hunt. With one solitary clue, they track down the thief and so begins a very dangerous chase….

What I particularly liked about the novel is the manner is which Boyle treats his characters. It would be so easy to turn Dana into a victim, but that never happens. Even when she’s handcuffed and dragged off to jail, and treated as though she’s stupid or a mental case, Dana always comes out fighting. The villain of the piece, a New Yorker with a troubled past and a history of violence picked the wrong person when he randomly selected Dana.

It’s easy to emphasize with Dana’s fury, and while we imagine how outraged we would feel in Dana’s shoes, at the same time, Dana’s deafness makes her ordeal that much more difficult, and renders her that much more powerless. Even after she’s released, the after effects of the thief’s actions keep rolling in. Boyle captures Dana’s frustrations as she hits wall after wall of disinterested bureaucracy at various levels of this nightmarish experience:

At the impound yard—CASH OR CREDIT CARD ONLY ABSOLUTELY NO CHECKS—they waited in line for twenty minutes while the people ahead of them put on a demonstration of the limits and varieties of hominid rage. The office, to which they were guided by a series of insistent arrows painted on the outer wall, were made of concrete block and had the feel of a bunker, dark and diminished and utterly impregnable. Immediately on entering they were confronted with a wall of bullet-proof Plexiglas, behind which sat a skinny sallow grim-faced cashier with hair dyed the color of engine oil. She might have been forty, forty-five--an age, at any rate, beyond which there is no hope nor even the pretense of it—and she wore a blue work shirt with some sort of badge affixed to the shoulder, Her job was to accept payment through a courtesy slit and then, at her leisure, stamp a form to release the vehicle in question. From early morning until closing time at six, people spoke to her –cursed, raved, foamed at her— through a scuffed metal grille.

The novel is full of great characters, and even minor characters who are described with just an adjective or two somehow emerge as three-dimensional solid human beings. Boyle gives equal time, space, and interest to the Perp of the Identity Takeover, a man who’s become addicted to using Dana’s “base identifiers” to create a marvelous, lavish lifestyle for himself. The thief whoops it up, living a dream life of leisure and luxury, creating gourmet meals, drinking expensive wines, and pouring money into the hands of his soulless, avaricious, shopaholic Russian girlfriend, Natalia. Their lifestyle is in complete contrast to the lives of those who pay for it. Dana and Bridger eat warm tuna sandwiches, and dimly contemplate dishes composed of unidentified organ meat on their cross-country hunt for the man who’s destroyed both of their lives.

Talk Talk is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year, and if you need something that distracts and consumes you, then this book is it.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 59 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Talk Talk at MostlyFiction.com

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About the Author:

T.C. BoyleT. Coraghessan Boyle was born and grew up in Peekshill, New York in the Hudson Valley. He received a Ph.D. degree in 19th Century British Literature from the University of Iowa in 1977, his M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1974, and his B.A. in English and History from SUNY Potsdam in 1968. He has been a member of the English Department at the University of Southern California since 1978.

His books are available in a number of foreign languages, including German, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Hebrew, Korean, Japanese, Danish, Swedish and Lithuanian. His stories have appeared in most of the major American magazines, including The New Yorker, Harper's, Esquire, The Atlantic Monthly, Playboy, The Paris Review, GQ, Antaeus and Granta, and he has been the recipient of a number of literary awards.

He currently lives near Santa Barbara, California with his wife and three children.


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