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LITERATURE

 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
T.C.Boyle
Talk Talk
Viking

Rating: 8.5/10 ?


December 7, 2006
The son of a secretary and a janitor, T.C. Boyle, born Thomas John in a sleepy Hudson Valley town, has grown from inauspicious beginnings into one of the most prolific, skilled and readable writers in modern American literature. Boyle changed his middle name, so the story goes, to Coraghessan at the age of 17 and, after a few years muddling around in New York state as an undergraduate and, briefly, as a high school teacher, lit out for the hallowed halls of the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop, nestled in amongst the cornfields and squiggling banks of the southbound Iowa River. Since then Boyle has ascended the literary ranks - having won a PEN/Faulkner Award, a nod from the National Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim monolith - and wound up in Southern California academia. Yes, Boyle has tasted the life of a successful artist, as his history of hairstyles can attest, but along the way he, as any great writer, has never lost touch with the back roads and everyday grit of the common man. Talk Talk, Boyle's 11th novel, is as much a testament to this fact as it is to his ability to tackle the mid-range social issues of our times, in this case the idea of "identity" and its various forms. It isn't a high-stakes game of international intrigue, billion-dollar money laundering outfits or biometric scanners at the core of the story, but rather the much more elusive and potentially more dangerous world of phone books, color copiers and mail boxes that ensnares the lives of 9-to-5'ers.

The story, which in true Boyle fashion isn't content to follow one idealistic thread in the face of a singular plotline, revolves around two Gen-Xers, Bridger Martin and Dana Halter, caught up in the everyday tumult of a "victimless crime." Bridger, entrenched in the stereotypical coastal California day job of rendering special effects for films, whiles away his day with mouse clicks amongst a peripheral cast of cubicle dwellers who go by screen names like Deet Deet, Plum and Lumpen. Dana, not far removed from the endless parade of post-baccalaureate degree programs, teaches at a local school. The two find each other inauspiciously enough, by the chance of a glance in the dark, electrified and sweaty air of a club, but their relationship is anything but usual. Bridger is a true disciple of the digital age, fueled by Red Bull and pizza, and Dana is deaf.

That in itself, the mashup between a disadvantaged academic fond of tapping out the rhythms of classic poets and an adult man who wears baggy pants and plays video games, could be enough for an exploration into the depths of human relations, a Palahniukian translation of the harmlessly light romance of Hornby. Anyone who knows Boyle's work, however, knows that it could not possibly stop there. When Dana's identity is stolen by a career criminal the two are sucked into a roller coaster web of false names, temporary addresses, and a hell of mangled credit reports that leads from the yuppie splendor of Marin County to the overgrown river bottoms of New York state. Release the hounds!

Through the marionettes of Bridger and Dana, Boyle explores not only the overt concepts of identity - credit cards, bank accounts and social security numbers - but also the more intangible elements of who people are. What are these things, these "base identifiers" that social systems use to track and, ultimately, evaluate us with? If the world's financial centers were caught up in a maelstrom of digital and file folder destruction, would anarchy reign? Boyle presents the question not only in the spirit of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club, where the world takes on a predictably skeptical view of anyone with a rejected credit card or mistaken police record, but also in terms of self awareness. Who cares what the rest of the world thinks - what do we think of ourselves? Who are we, when stripped of our cell phones, credit histories and even our own names? Does it change who we are, and were we ever anyone at all to begin with? Or does a set of numbers and a paper trail not only track our income, but our dictate our outcome?

There is a lot to ponder in this book and, like Drop City and most of Boyle's works before it, the pages fly by, making it all too easy to slip by under the surface, like a boulder on a riverbed, unnoticed. And that is what will ultimately enshrine Boyle alongside the greatest of American authors, past or present. For his is not a greatness found in six-syllable words and Immanuel Kant-ian musings on the intangible, but rather in an ability to paint a riveting picture that can be both appreciated for its depth and its entertainment value. Like all great authors, T.C. Boyle is what you make of him.

Reviewed by Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.

See other reviews by Eric J Herboth

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