Braille Monitor                                                 December 2011

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Featured Book from the Jacobus tenBroek Library
Talk Talk, by T. C. Boyle (New York: Viking, 2006)

Reviewed by Ed Morman

From the Editor: With some regularity we spotlight books in the tenBroek Library or of potential interest to our readers. Here is Librarian Ed Morman's review of a book not in the collection but of general interest:

Identity theft can be frightening. And a well-researched, well-written novel about identity theft promises to be a good read. But what if such a story has an added hook to gain the attention of potential readers? With Talk Talk, T. C. Boyle takes what would have been a first-rate fictional account of identity theft and complicates it—to good effect—by making its victim a woman who is totally deaf.

Talk Talk presents the reader with a disabled person who is accustomed to leading a full and active life until she finds herself confronted by a serious problem that has nothing to do with her disability. The plot is simple, but to write it Boyle had to learn how identity thieves ply their trade and how the deaf manage in a hearing world. We have not yet heard from identity thieves about the accuracy of Boyle’s description of their methods, but the novel seems to have gotten a good response in the deaf community. Just as blind people object to stereotypical depictions of the blind, the deaf want to see deaf characters in works of fiction display the foibles and virtues that any other person might have. To write this book, Boyle had to learn something about the world of the deaf—including both the alternative techniques they use and how much they are like people who can hear. The protagonist of Talk Talk reads lips and uses sign language, and she has both strengths and character flaws.

At the novel’s start Dana Halter—a Gallaudet graduate and teacher at a school for the deaf in California—finds herself arrested and stuck in jail for an entire weekend. Habitually late, she had been pulled over on a Friday afternoon after running a stop sign and is taken in and charged because her driver’s license bears a name that has been used by a dangerous fugitive.

Dana’s boyfriend is a nice but sometimes inept computer graphics guy with normal hearing. Bridger Martin, the boyfriend, is distraught until he discovers why Dana hasn’t shown up for a date. Not until the weekend is over, however, can he clear up the confusion and get the charges dropped. Dana is unreasonably angry at him for not having sprung her immediately but soon recognizes that he could have done little before court opened on Monday. Once she is free, Dana and Bridger set out to learn who the culprit is and to locate him (yes, it is a man). They pursue him until they catch up with him on the other side of the continent, in upstate New York.

Bridger had first been attracted to Dana while watching her dance in a nightclub, where the loud, pulsing rhythms provided bodily sensations that allowed her to move in time to the music that she could not hear. Boyle does not describe Dana’s ability to dance as remarkable in any way, nor does he suggest that the beauty of her movements has anything to do with her deafness. She is simply an attractive young woman who dances well and happens to be deaf.

By the time Dana is arrested, Bridger has begun to learn American Sign Language (ASL), but he’s still a beginner, and the two frequently communicate vocally, with Dana reading Bridger’s lips. Boyle does an fine job of showing how Dana switches from awkwardness in using her voice to greater ease and confidence when she can use ASL in conversation with a trained interpreter.

Talk Talk works because, while the dire situation that befalls Dana has nothing to do with her inability to hear, her deafness comes into play as she and her hearing companion gradually figure out what they want to do and explore ways to do it. Some reviewers have described the ending as a let-down, but your library director found it interesting and a logical conclusion to the unexpected adventures shared by Dana and Bridger, two normal people who find their world turned upside down by a crazy situation over which they had no control.

The book is available from the NLS (in Braille and audio), but it is not in the tenBroek Library collection since it has nothing to do with blindness. Because it is available in accessible formats and deals with the other major sensory disability, we concluded that readers of the Monitor might be interested in reading this presentation of a fictional deaf person who uses a number of alternative techniques as she deals with a difficult situation.

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