The tone of the stories in Sweet Talk is uniformly subdued. There is evocative description of countryside in some of the stories, but in all the stories characters are effectively sketched through action and speech rather than through detailed physical description. Gemma is the narrator of the stories dealing with her family, but her voice is far from strident—fittingly, since she is not an assertive character. She depicts herself as a normal teenager, more interested in being a cheerleader than in anything serious, and even when she later rebels against her father’s way of life she does so in secret. She tries to help her sick mother but does not seem to have much effect. In “We’re on TV in the Universe,” the central character, perhaps Gemma, is passive, allowing things to happen to her, not taking the initiative. The actions taken by Gemma and the other female figures tend not to be drastic or dramatic.
The stories about Gemma deal with the problems of a girl and young woman growing up in a restrictive environment. She struggles to find ways to assert her own personality and to find a warmth which her father seems unable to provide. Especially in “Dog Heaven,” her friendship with a schoolmate and the loyalty of a favorite dog combine to give Gemma a memory which she obviously treasures for the rest of her life. The tenor of most of the stories, however, is subtly tragic. The father’s attempt to rule his family and provide his children with rules for living is no more successful than his military career. There is something pathetic in his decision to name his son after a soldier far more successful than he is.
Gemma eventually throws off...
(The entire section is 690 words.)