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Identity theft is no joke, but Citibank has some pretty funny commercials for it. Maybe they inspired T.C. Boyle to write his 19th book of fiction, Talk Talk, which was released last month in paperback.
Identity thief Peck Wilson, aka Frank Calabreese, aka Dr. Dana Halter, is living it up. With a luxury condo and a brand-new BMW—but no job—he lives vicariously off the accounts of others in a feeble attempt to afford his high-maintenance Russian girlfriend, Natalia. He’s wanted in several states for a slew of felonies, but the feds are barking up the wrong tree, looking for Dr. Dana Halter, not Frank Calabreese, and certainly not William ‘Peck’ Wilson.
But when the real Dana Halter is pulled over and arrested, assumed to be the criminal, she is thrust into a secret world of rich people who aren’t who they say they are. Not leaving this one up to the worthless cops, she decides to pursue the jerk herself when her boyfriend Bridger discovers Peck’s real cell number. The chase is on, from California to New York, with Dana (who's deaf!) and Bridger resolved to put the criminal behind bars before he further ruins their lives.
Talk Talk starts out like a sprinter from the blocks, with an energized tone that doesn’t allow the reader a chance to pause for a breath, but the book loses some of its momentum in the middle. The game of cat-and-mouse gets a little tedious. Jaw-dropping plot twists are in short supply throughout, and when something happens, there’s the feeling of “I saw that one coming.”
For a thriller, Talk is too conventional, too predictable, and the fact that Peck is supposed to be a bad-ass because he knows tae kwon do is a bit hokey during what should be two of the highest tension points in the narrative. Boyle’s style is highly structured, with the novel divided into five parts and an epilogue. He begins each chapter with a detailed insight into the character’s mental status, and ends each with a cliff-hanger.
The introductory mental portraits attempt to inspire empathy for the characters through detailed descriptions and backgrounds, but they end up instead producing the opposite effect, leading the reader to struggle to find any deep connection to the heroes or villain. This detracts from the tension—the key element in any thriller—and there is never that feeling of dramatic irony where the audience screams at the screen because they know what lurks behind the door, but the little girl doesn’t.
Though the last 50 of the 340 pages are hard to put down, the novel is a deceptively long read. The end will go by like a blur, though, largely because up to that point the reader has been deprived of any true plot resolutions. While the majority of the story is like watching two boxers size each other up before delivering the first blow, it’s still exciting, and when the punches begin to land, all hell breaks loose.
In large part, Talk is a harmless novel, good reading fun and a great way to realize, “Hey, my life isn’t so bad, at least compared to all the crap these poor saps have to go through.”