A deaf woman’s perspective written by a hearing man, this post is about discovering a T.C. Boyle novel from 2005 I hadn’t read called Talk, Talk, one of the most amazing feats of fiction I’ve read in some time.
I’m a big fan of Boyle but can’t keep up with his production, which is fast and furious. (I still haven’t read his current novel, The Terranauts).
In Talk, Talk, Boyle uses both language of the hearing and of those without to describe with startling precision the perspective of his main characters, a deaf woman and her hearing boyfriend. It is a complex landscape of communication that includes layers of perspective – people watching them sign to each other or the subtle differences in their own use or avoidance of sign or spoken language.
Boyle’s precision in describing the complicated dialogues taking place between the characters amazed me. He seamlessly enters the realm of the non-spoken we all share, e-mails and texts, where there is no distinction between the hearing and those who cannot. In fact, he empowers his characters with a beautiful countering of language for language.
The novel is essentially a road novel in which the driving force is an act of identity theft in which the perpetrator is a serially irresponsible and hateful user of others and the victim the aforementioned main characters.
From the police station encounter at the opening to the final showdown between the thief and his victim, the narrative isn’t that complex. It travels a good distance – from coast to coast – but it isn’t about the road. Somehow the landscape of the mindsets of the characters becomes more interesting than the plot. Their way of rationalizing and communicating is fascinating and sends this tale tumbling and careening down the road.
Subtle modes of communicating are revealed by Boyle’s process of how we talk to one another in extreme circumstances. When the final showdown between the thief and the woman finally occurs, after so much suspenseful haranguing and violent confrontation it ends with a pretty simple gesture – a shove.
I found out T.C. Boyle is on Twitter @tcboyle and is really active and generous about chatting about his work. He wrote to me when I complimented him about the novel, that the novel was about language itself.
Boyle writes so much of such high quality, it seems almost effortless and I asked him how he manages to be so productive and yet active on Twitter and giving talks and being social, something I find very difficult and he replied pointedly that writing is the thing he does, every day. He is active at the process.
It was a great reminder from a guy who when asked what suggestions he had for a young writer just starting out once replied, ‘come from a wealthy family.’