Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Talk to Me

Talk to Me by John Kenney
Penguin Random House: 1/15/19
eBook review copy: 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780735214378

Talk to Me by John Kenney is a very highly recommended, brilliant, wry commentary on news in the current age of social media and the fall-out which results from a public thrashing.

The narrative opens with Ted Grayson contemplating suicide by not opening his parachute while skydiving. What would lead a man to this? Ted is a fifty-nine-year-old beloved news anchor at the peak of his career when an ill-advised profanity-laced outburst directed toward a young hairstylist is recorded. She puts it on social media and the video goes viral. As public opinion is created through sound bites in this age of immediate gratification and most people seem to obtain their news through social media and memes, the fall-out is instantaneous.

Unknown to most people is that Ted's personal life is already in shambles. His wife of 30 years, Claire, has fallen in love with another man and is planning to divorce him. He has been estranged for years from his adult daughter, Frances, a writer for a popular sensational fake news website. He has some health concerns that he has kept secret from everyone. All Ted really had was his career and onscreen news persona. Any question of actually listening to Ted about what happened and why he had the tirade is dismissed. Now he has nothing and Ted's reputation and career are destroyed as the sound bites take over, the press attacks continue, and protests begin.

Talk to Me is outstanding. This is the novel that I have been waiting to see written and Kenney does an excellent job capturing the public outcry following a ripped-from-the-headlines situation that has gone viral and is out of control. In this age of news via assumptions, memes, quick judgements, and instantly taking offense, Talk to Me demonstrates how reporting the news has been replaced with people looking for the sensational and the worst in all situations based on their viewpoints. Stories are based on what is trending, with the number of comments ruling. People are quick to form an opinion, be offended, and take a stance based on incomplete or incorrect facts. Yeah, Ted seriously messed up in a career-ending move and needed the wake-up call, but the continued media onslaught was excessive.

The development of the characters is exceptional. They are all flawed, selfish, damaged people, but Kenney's memorable portrayal makes them sympathetic even when you question their judgement. The video of this one mistake Ted makes has gone viral, but a life consists of many mistakes. How many of us could endure the media scrutiny of every nuance of our lives and come out flawless. They have all made a shambles of their lives and the very public downfall of Ted's career and the subsequent media feeding frenzy is amplifying their flaws. There is a moment when a small glimmer of hope enters the narrative toward the end that offers some hope.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

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