Talk to Me by T. C. Boyle
9/14/21; 352 pages
Talk to Me by T. C. Boyle is a very highly recommended novel about a chimp who has been taught to communicate via sign language.
Villard, a university student, applies for a job assisting
animal behaviorist and professor Guy Schermerhorn in caring for Sam, a
juvenile chimp he has taught to speak in sign language. As soon as she
shows up, Sam bonds with her and Guy is also attracted to her. She takes
on assisting with the teaching and caring for Sam with a natural ease.
Guy is anxious to use Sam's ability to communicate through sign language
to further his career, hopefully with an appearance with Sam on The Tonight Show
with Johnny Carson. When Dr. Moncrief, the nefarious Iowa professor who owns Sam as well as a large number of other primates, decrees that
teaching chimps to communicate is passe, he collects all his chimps,
including Sam, and puts them in cages at his containment facility.
Aimee, who has bonded with Sam too, leaves California for Iowa where she
plans to offer to work at Moncrief's facility for free in order to be
As expected from Boyle, the quality of the writing is skillful and
superlative. The story is both a farce and a tragedy and I became
invested in the plot immediately. Set in California during the mid
1980s, Boyle immediately captured the time period and setting at the
opening when Aimee first sees Sam on TV and later a notice on a bulletin
board looking for assistants to help with Sam's care.
The narrative is told through Guy, Aimee, and Sam's point of view.
While Guy and Aimee's narrative move the plot forward, Sam's provides an
awareness and emotional insight into his reactions and thought
processes concerning what is happening to him. Their relationships also
portray a love triangle of sorts while simultaneously exploring the
consciousness, intercommunication, and analyzing the awareness of inter-species connections.
As a character study, the portrayal of Sam and his thoughts and
feelings is mesmerizing and compelling. Following the actions and
thoughts of Aimee and Guy reflect a more expected and anticipated
development of their characters. Aimee is certainly the more nuanced character although Sam is also portrayed with and acuity and compassion.
She has a connection with and love for Sam, but no legal rights. She is
unable to turn her back on him, knowing the abuse Sam will face at the
hands of Moncrief, who is a classic antagonist. Guy is an opportunistic
pragmatist who, although he cared for Sam, is more interested in
furthering his career.