Talk Talk, by TC Boyle

If you're not careful, you can lose yourself in the great American outdoors
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The Independent Culture

Talk Talk is, rather surprisingly, TC Boyle's first attempt at a road novel. Boyle has always seemed as suited as any writer to the idea of speeding through the great American outdoors: there's a feeling of midnight frenzy to his style, and he has never been more prolific. This is his third book in under a year, following the Kinsey-themed The Inner Circle, and the wonderful short-story collection Tooth and Claw.

Talk Talk burns instantaneous rubber as Dana Halter, a deaf schoolteacher, is pulled over for a routine speeding offence, only to find herself handcuffed and accused of a list of crimes of which she has no prior knowledge. Halter, it turns out, has been the victim of a very modern crime: identity theft. At some point, as she got on with her uncontaminated life - trying to finish her PhD and romancing her CGI-boffin boyfriend, Bridger - her name, credit card and bank details have been appropriated by Peck Wilson. This ex-con has found that being "Dana" has been a good way to dig himself out of his putrid trough of a life.

Boyle is masterful at putting you right there with Dana, feeling the full force of each injustice - all of which seem more cruel, because of her lack of hearing. Released from prison, she and Bridger opt to set off across America in pursuit of her antagonist. Dana is an interesting character, as stubborn as she is alienated, and her deafness only adds to a pervading sense of unease.

In three decades of writing fiction, Boyle's two favourite themes have been failed idealism and culture clash. He's more interested in the latter here, and Talk Talk sometimes feels like a less momentous sibling to his 1995 novel The Tortilla Curtain. That was a kind of Los Angelean Bonfire of the Vanities, which asked how liberal white California really felt about its immigrant population when its home comforts were at stake.

However, the real culture clash here is between Dana and the more aurally-equipped world. It's an ambitious move, but Boyle pulls it off. The sentences sing and swagger, but Talk Talk feels a little thinly planted towards the end, with its creator seeming to rush towards his conclusion. It may be just the travelogue aspect speeding things up. `If so, it's a fuel-injection that this particular writer can easily do without.

Tom Cox's 'The Lost Tribes Of Pop' will be published by Piatkus in October

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