by T. C. Boyle; New York, Viking Press, 2006, 352 pages, $25.95
Dr. Fisher is affiliated with the Department of Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Memorial Health Care, Worcester.
I always admire an author who can write a convincing personality disorder, and T. C. Boyle is one who can. In Talk Talk, Boyle tells two interwoven stories: the story of a woman whose identity is stolen and the story of the man who steals it. Chapter by chapter, the reader's perspective flips from one character to the other, and at times they identify with each other. Identity theft is a real and present worry. It's in the news and before Congress, and the idea itself holds a morbid fascination. For those of us in the mental health field, however, identity takes on additional meaning. Each character in T. C. Boyle's novel experiences and reveals a different aspect of identity.
Dana Halter, the victim in this story, is a young, professional, deaf woman. When her identity is stolen, she struggles with the need to clear her good name and with communicating with the hearing world that gets in her way. Her story is told from her perspective and from the perspective of her hearing boyfriend. Together they elaborate for the reader the intricate dance between the deaf and the hearing communities.
Peck Wilson, the identity thief in the story, struggles throughout the book to grasp his own identity. He dances an equally intricate step between who he is and who he would like to be. Here, the reader experiences the grief and longing of having a personality disorder, yet the reader still gets the frisson of horror as Peck's emptiness becomes manifest.
The combination of these two stories makes for a novel that is both entertaining and edifying, as circumstances foreign to many of us are made real in an empathic and insightful way. Talk Talk is interesting enough to pass the time on a long flight and insightful enough to keep thinking about long after landing.