American author T.C. Boyle’s novel Talk Talk
(2006) chronicles a deaf woman's efforts to identify the criminal responsible for stealing her identity. In its review
of Talk Talk
, the New York Times
writes, "No one writes better about the wages of American sin [than Boyle]."
At the age of four, Dana Halter suffers an ear infection that causes her to lose her hearing. Despite these challenges, Dana grows up to become a high school English teacher with an astounding vocabulary and knowledge of Latin roots. When the book begins, she is in her early thirties and living in the fictional California city of San Roque with her boyfriend, Bridger Martin. Having not lost his hearing, Bridger is referred to as a "hearie" in the deaf community. He works in the film industry creating special effects. Even though Dana is adept at lipreading, Bridger takes sign language classes to indicate his support and solidarity for Dana.
One day on the way to the dentist, Dana absentmindedly runs a stop sign in front of a police car. What she expects will be a routine traffic stop turns life-threatening when the officer draws his gun on Dana. At the station, Dana is too stricken with anxiety to understand what is happening to her. Only when a sign language interpreter arrives does Dana learn there are warrants out for her arrest for drug possession and check fraud in Marin County, Los Angeles, and various other municipalities. Even though the "Dana Halter" who committed those crimes is a man, the real Dana struggles to convince the police that she is a victim of mistaken—and likely stolen—identity.
Eventually, the police release her, but it is still incumbent on her to prove her innocence if she wants to avoid prosecution. With the help of Bridger, Dana proceeds to track down the man who stole her identity. Their investigation leads them to an individual named William "Peck" Wilson. Born in Peterskill, New York, Peck is an incredibly bitter man who blames the world for the many problems he has encountered in his life. Once the proprietor of a promising restaurant, Peck marries the wrong woman and has a child. Unable to bring in enough money to take care of his family and keep his restaurant open, he becomes exceedingly reliant on the money of his wife's family. Fed up with her husband's lack of self-sufficiency, Peck's wife divorces him, leaving him in an extraordinary amount of debt. Unable to pay child support payments, Peck is briefly jailed. Upon his release, Peck relocates to Marin County, California where he sets himself up as an identity thief, finally attaining the lifestyle of wealth he always wanted.
By the time of Dana's arrest, Peck is living under her name and social security number. He even has a driver's license in Dana’s name. Peck lives a luxurious life with Natalia, a beautiful young Russian and her daughter from another marriage. Natalia, who believes Peck is a physician, inadvertently spurs him to ever-bolder fraudulent activities due to her lavish tastes which far outstrip even his. A shopaholic in the truest sense, Natalia frequency brings home exotic cats that soil the carpet of their expansive house.
Once Peck realizes that the real Dana Halter knows who he is, Peck and Natalia race across the country in their Mercedes, back to his hometown of Peterskill. Throughout the novel, Dana and Bridger are only ever a few steps behind, pursuing the criminal in their Volkswagen Jetta. While Bridger would have been happy to put their faith in the authorities, Dana refuses to take that risk.
When they eventually catch up to the assailant in Peterskill, Peck is indignant and unwilling to go down for his crimes. Threatening violence against Dana and Bridger if they pursue him further, the two appear to abandon their quest for justice. In fact, the protagonists never make it clear to the reader—nor perhaps to themselves—what they plan to do once they find Peck. The novel ends on an ambiguous note with the exact fates of the characters unclear.Talk Talk
is an invigorating story that turns an essentially a book-length chase scene into a probing inquiry into identity and American materialism.