T.C. Boyle’s Talk Talk, Part Four

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This post concludes our discussion of T.C. Boyle’s Talk Talk. Previous discussion: Part One, Part Two and Part Three.]

Dan Wickett writes:

Ouch, nice shot at the age there Gwenda – The Road to Wellville in high school? I had been out of college for four years when it was published.

One thing I would absolutely recommend to those who are just getting into Boyle, or have only read his novels. Buy T.C. Boyle: Stories and sit down for a long weekend of enjoyment. Where each of us has pointed out a point or two in the novel where it may have slowed down – this does NOT ever happen in his short stories. They tend to have the energy and drive of the first chapter of Talk Talk.

I am not sure I agree with Gwenda about Boyle’s seeming lack of interest in Dana towards the end of the book, though I do agree with Megan’s comments that Boyle seems almost more sympathetic toward Peck than Bridger and Dana. I think that’s what led to my larger interest in the sections Peck was involved in than the others. While Boyle has been accused of not creating well rounded female characters in the past, I do believe by Drop City at the very latest, he should have had that reputation shucked (in fact the two most believable, well rounded, characters in Drop City, in my opinion, were females), and I think that holds here. I didn’t find Dana to be short shrifted in any terms of her character development. I just think Boyle became more fond of Peck throughout the novel and may have written his parts with a little more glee.

I do agree with Gwenda that some of the ordering of sections seemed a bit odd. A couple of times I was surprised he was looking at a scene from a particular character’s point of view – specifically some of the passages through the middle of the novel where Boyle took a peek at a scene from both Peck’s viewpoint and that of the Bridger/Dana combination. Once or twice it seemed that had he looked at the incident from the other point of view first, he might have been able to maintain more suspense and intrigue than by the ordering that he chose to write them in.

Getting back to my own original question, I agree with Megan – I think the merging of these two ideas – that of identity theft, and that of language – worked very well together, and beyond my few minor reservations mentioned above, I enjoyed Talk Talk quite a bit.

I respond:

There are lots of interesting points to respond to.

First, I wanted to clarify a theory I expressed before about Talk Talk as an anticapitalist tale. I think ideologies and systems are a very important part of this book. And I felt that the midsection was lumpy, not so much because the plot slows down, but because Boyle is still in the process of figuring out what’s wrong with his characters. He lays down the thriller plot in Part I, but Part II’s dramatic shift in perspective, to my mind, felt like an author who needed to figure out how he viewed the scenario holistically. But perhaps there’s nothing to figure out here and this is what causes the midsection to stall. Was Boyle caught between writing a thriller and writing a novel of ideas? Perhaps the world here should simply be experienced as presented. Gwenda noted that she could buy Dana and Bridger’s irrationality, but I’m wondering if this is because the world Boyle presents is devoid of any order or justice — in short, the very rationality that people like Dana, Bridger and Peck require to operate in. After all, in Boyle’s world, even the structure here that’s designed to protect us (identity protection, police, courts, government, et al.) can’t be relied upon. Could this what Boyle is getting at with Digital Dynasty? Remember, it’s not just special effects that this company is creating. They are adhering to some dubious cinematic mythology comparable to the Lord of the Rings movies.

This may explain (to address Megan’s point) why Peck becomes such a dynamic character, a man who feels that he’s entitled to everything, with his backstory gradually revealed to the reader. It is almost as if Boyle advocates Peck’s active (although severe) approach to wrestling with the world over Bridger’s. I mean, how else do you explain Bridger’s near quizzical state throughout the novel? There is Bridger’s preposterous sprint, which Boyle describes as “murderous, crazed — but for all that glad to be out of the car and away from her.” (179) So here’s the question I put forth to you folks. To what extent is Dana a reflection of the world’s crumbling ideologies? Or is Bridger simply a man constantly seeking escape? And is his need for escape the seminal problem here?

By contrast, Peck represents an extraordinary case of trying to divagate through the world by any means necessary. And while his actions are clearly solipsistic, unlike Bridger, Peck still seems to understand the world on some crude palpable level. He knows the stare. He is able to influence people. He’s able to live in a condo. As crudely functioning as he is, he does know how to steal another person’s identity. Is this then his only skill? Or has the world’s irrationality led him to this desperate behavior?

Like Gwenda, I also had issues with Dana’s sixth sense. But if we look beyond this novel as a thriller and more of a metaphysical piece, perhaps this is a catty suggestion that having a hunch of how to proceed in life is better than just floating by or being led by other people (the anger Dana feels toward Bridger that Megan intimated at). Perhaps this might also account for the book’s reliance upon coincidence. If Boyle’s conclusion here involves humans who are better off operating in a random way than not at all, it’s an interesting castigation against slackers. I suggest castigation, because no one here has remarked upon the “two super-sized white women with unevenly dyed hair — travelers like themselves — who were staring moodily down at the foil-wrapped remains of their burritos and clutching bottles of Dos Equis as if they were fire extinguishers.” (120) This struck me as particularly cartoonish, even by Boyle standards — almost Tom Wolfe-like. But perhaps the contrast is necessary in order to provoke the comparison (“travelers like themselves”). Twenty years down the line, will Dana and Bridger end up like these two displaced women? Or is this too heavy-handed an approach?

Also, nobody has remarked upon the egret question. Care to proffer a theory?

[NOTES: While our motley group didn’t find the answers to some of these questions, Our Young, Roving Correspondent was fortunate to talk with Mr. Boyle this week and addressed many of these issues to him in person. They will appear in an upcoming Bat Segundo podcast. Interestingly enough, OYRC learned that the original version of Talk Talk submitted to Viking contained an appendix which featured Wild Child, the novel that Dana was working on. Boyle excised this from the book at Viking’s request. But Boyle completists should take note that McSweeney’s #19 contains this fragment. OYRC suggested to Boyle that he might want to include this in the paperback edition of Talk Talk. We shall see what transpires.]

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One Comment

  1. “To what extent is Dana a reflection of the world’s crumbling ideologies? Or is Bridger simply a man constantly seeking escape? And is his need for escape the seminal problem here?”

    When a person loses him or her self this can cause the flatness we might read into Dana’s character in the middle of the book. While her anger over having her identity stolen and her boss’s insufferable lack of empathy for her prompted her to track down Peck, she is a person experiencing great loss…loss of self. Let’s say she is in a state of grief and this breeds depression.
    Bridger in his loving of her and his frequent trips down that lover’s memory lane does the noble thing and helps his grieving damsel in distress.
    I see it more as people experiencing loss and how they cope. Peck loses his Sukie and behaves with a criminal mindset in his grief. Dana goes off perhaps irrationally but roboticlike because she is majorly depressed. Bridger is dutiful in all of his actions, trying not to lose anything.
    I see a sequel…kind of a SIlence of the Lambs…with superheroes Bridger and Dana after Peck, who will be someone else at some point…I am not making light, I think this could happen.
    …More Talk Talk… to come.

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