T.C. Boyle plays games in his novels. Reading Talk Talk is like watching chess, with the novice no doubt missing much of the subtly of a game between masters, while the expert sees things in the moves that many others do not. The care with language is obvious even when the plot veers toward the ridiculous.
Talk Talk isn’t at the same level of, say, Lolita, and it is an excellent story even if one doesn’t notice the finer points of its writing. But it still engages, and it talks to us, even if, like Dana, we only understand a fraction of what it says. She’s a clever device for discussing language itself, and her deafness is so obviously a device that Boyle takes care not to abuse it.
At times he isn’t perfect, though the flaws stand out more because they are so rare. “‘What now?’ [Dana] asked, and if she could have heard herself—if she were a character in a novel—she might have described her tone as forlorn.” Well, Dana is in a novel, as I don’t need to be reminded.
Then there’s the realism, which is like the best of Neal Stephenson; every page has a scene or description that makes me nod and say, “Yes, I know that.” The momentary leap into art or remembrance comes: “Of course [Bridger] might have been talking about Rashomon, the Kurosawa film, and for the tiniest sliver of a second she wondered just how the three of them—she, Bridger and the thief—fit into that scenario, with its shifting perspective and deconstructed narrative.” It’s sometimes hard to say where I fit into Boyle’s deconstructed narrative, but I know the déjà vu feeling that comes from life imitating art.
There is a lot of talking and communication, but there is even more miscommunication, both intentionally and not. Sounds like the challenge of social existence: understanding not what’s being said, but what’s not being said. And, if I may have my own meta-comment, what’s sometimes important in comment or criticism isn’t what’s being said, but what’s not being said.