Talk Talk by T.C. Boyle is an animated, vigorously written story about identity theft related in the third person from both the victims' and perpetrator's point of view.
The strongest part of the novel is the opening, wherein Dana, who is deaf, finds herself not only abused by her cynical victimizer--let's call him Peck, his real nickname--but also thrown in jail, subjected to the indignities of a three-day incarceration and subsequently fired from her job as a teacher in a place called San Roque, California. While this is going on, her boyfriend, Bridger, is frozen out of the action by the penal bureaucracy (he can't communicate with her), and Peck, who is using Dana's name in the male sense, is living splendidly in Marin, California, with his Russian sweetheart and her annoying little girl.
Partly because she's had such a struggle earning her PhD and with life as a deaf person, Dana is outraged and wants to find this thief and make him pay for what he's done to her. Bridger, who creates computer-based movies, is concerned about her obsession, but there's no hold onto her if he tries to hold her back. In fact, when they first spot Peck, Bridger's outrage is huge, but not as huge as it will become when Peck decides he'll just switch over from being Dana to becoming Bridger--exhausting his credit cards, ruining his credit rating, and escaping pursuit (he thinks) in an illicitly acquired Mercedes S-Class.
The stage is set for Peck to head for the East Coast, specifically the area where he grew up along the Hudson River. There he has another scam planned with a co-conspirator and master thief he met in prison. But Dana won't give up, and Bridger tags along.
The narrative alternates between Peck's high life in his new woodsy home and Dana and Bridger's desperate attempts to find out who he is and where he is. Through a series of not implausible clues and quick thinking, they succeed.
One of the interesting features of Peck's character is that being chased makes him made. He wants revenge when anyone messes with his life. He takes it personally and reacts violently. It's not entirely clear when he became this way, but he definitely had a high opinion of himself as an adolescent and he definitely had a brutal experience when he lost his restaurants and marriage and ended up in jail for three years after brutalizing his former wife's boyfriend.
In a sense, T.C. Boyle is presenting a split-level story here...split between the hearing and the deaf...split between the vagaries of our digital identities and our flesh and blood identities...and split between the "anything can happen in a computer-based movie" and the "anything can happen when hot-tempered people go after one another."
There is no doubt that Dana and Bridger are the good guys, insulting though that seems to Peck, but there is a quality of the unresolved embedded in this novel. Peck apparently gets away. Dana and Bridger apparently break up...but they also apparently, in Bridger's imagination, come together again.
Ultimately, I suppose Boyle is portraying modern life, or American life, as a place where nothing matters all that much. Push back hard enough and you'll get nowhere...or hurt. In some ways he undermines this message with intermittently syrupy bursts of joy and love going on between poor Dana and Bridge. And in other ways he blunts the cruelty he presents by letting accidents take some of the blame and contextualizing things in the low-grade reality of fast food joints, stupid car dealers, dummy cops, and wooden school administrators. He's a fast-paced, quick-witted, sharp-edged realist, someone who may take the America he snarls at too seriously, not someone who reaches deeply enough into the horrors of being no one, of being a few misplaced digits on a card or a screen, of losing big and permanently to the evil spirits of the mass age when we are, in fact, in danger of becoming entities that don't matter.
For more of my comments on contemporary writing, see Tuppence Reviews (Kindle).
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