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2007-12-13

Book Review - Talk Talk

SEATTLE, Washington - I'm a fan of T.C. Boyle, but he may be starting to show his mileage a bit in his most recent novel, Talk Talk. Or maybe it's just me.

The first Boyle novel that I read was The Road to Wellville, and it's easily among my five favorite novels. Most of all, it's funny; even given all the talents of Boyle that are on display in Wellville - the detailed historical research, vivid insight into the good, bad, and ugly of human nature, command of the English language that I can only dream about - I essentially considered him a humorist.

But something happened as I worked my way through his novels - each one got less and less funny. Maybe I read them in the wrong order. Water Music, his first and probably most ambitious novel, is excellent but perhaps a notch down from Wellville on the laugh scale. Riven Rock has some humor, but also some pain (not that that's a bad thing.) And Drop City has laughs, but early 1970s hippies are such an easy target.

Talk Talk is an identity theft caper. A deaf teacher, Dana Halter, ends up in jail on a zillion warrants, and after a few days in the calaboose it is determined that she is the victim of identity theft. She loses her job in all of this commotion, and when the authorities do not show sufficient vigor in pursuing the fraudster, she enlists her boyfriend Bridger Martin in a quest to hunt him down. Yep, a guy stole Dana's identity - if she had a female-specific name then none of this would have happened.

The amateur sleuths end up hot on the thief's tail, and a chase ensues from the central California coast, to Marin County, to Boyle's home turf, the Hudson River valley. Along the way, Bridger gets his identity stolen - be sure to use a pay phone when you call an identity thief.

As I said, Dana is deaf. Bridger is not, though he is working on his sign language. I'm not sure how much this deafness adds to the book, perhaps if I had more training in the arts & letters I would see the deep significance. Boyle does seem to like the occasional communication issue, such as the no-hablo-ingl├ęs Japanese deserter stranded in Georgia's barrier islands in East is East, or the psychotic and frequently incommunicado Stanley McCormick in Riven Rock.

This book is not bad, but I would say that a reader can maximize their Boyle enjoyment by sticking to the period novels listed above, where all of the author's talents and capabilities are on display.

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