No writer of fiction serves up contemporary American comedy better than T. Coraghessan Boyle, author of ten previous novels and eight collections of short stories. In his short stories, particularly, he writes about timely topics and quirky characters who reflect the multicultural society of transients, immigrants, and misfits and the postfeminist fallout of assertive women and men who cannot cope. His style, distinguished by colorful similes and an impressive vocabulary that mixes learned dictionary words with jargon, slang, and obscenity, perfectly captures the high colloquial sound of spoken American English. Over his work hangs a pall of dark humor convinced of the fallibility of human endeavor.
Boyle brings all these comedic features to his novel Talk Talk. The main subject of Talk Talk is identity theft, a rapidly growing problem of the electronic information age. Along the way Boyle takes satiric shots at such diverse targets as brown-shirted police, the bureaucratic court system, lawyers, consumerism, haute cuisine, workplace politics, the dumbing down of the media, fast food, and bias against the deaf. He also gives due recognition to the mushrooming technological ambience: In a way, Talk Talk could be called the first saga of the cell phone, which comes into play frequently in the novel. The novel also combines elements of the detective mystery, the chase story, the revenge novel, the disability story, and the existential quest.
Divided into five parts, Talk Talk takes place over part of a summer. The novel follows a roughly chronological order that is broken by bits of background and brief flashbacks that help to explain the characters. The novel also shifts scenes and points of view among the three major characters, providing contrast, drama, and suspense as the mystery unravels and the chase ensues. Part I of the novel focuses attention on the awful experiences of the identity thief’s victim, serving to disprove the prevailing idea of the police that identity theft is a victimless crime, even if the thief does not care who his victim isin this instance, a deaf woman named Dana Halter.
The novel’s opening shows how identity theft can disrupt normality, as if the sky suddenly fell. One morning Dana Halter, hurrying to a dental appointment, fails to make a full stop at a stop sign and is pulled over by a bored policeman. Before long she has more to worry about than a toothache and a traffic ticket. After the officer checks her record, he bounds from his car like a demented neo-Nazi. He draws his gun, drags her from her car, slaps handcuffs on her, and gives her a full pat-down. Then he cages her in his car and hauls her to headquarters, where she is booked, fingerprinted, and posed for a mug shot. She finally persuades them that she is deaf, and they get an interpreter who reads the charges to her: “Passing bad checks, auto theft, possession of a controlled substance, assault with a deadly weaponthe list goes on.”
Through the interpreter, Dana makes her one allowed call to her boyfriend, Bridger, who comes to the police station to bail her out. Bridger soon learns that the wheels of justice move extremely slowly. He waits there throughout the day, a Friday, only to be told that there are no-bail holds on Dana in other counties and her hearing will be Monday at the earliest. Meanwhile, Dana has been locked in the women’s holding cell with drunks. That night she is leg-chained, handcuffed, and transported with a busload of arrestees to the county jail where she has to wear orange prison garb, is fed bologna sandwiches, and spends the sleepless weekend in a cell with eight other women who taunt and abuse her because she is deaf. On Monday, again in leg chains and handcuffs, she is transported with the others to court. Dana’s lawyer, the public defender Marie Eustace, making the case for identity theft, finally gets the charges against her dropped. Despite the verdict, Dana still has to be bussed back to the county jail to...
(The entire section is 1,858 words.)