With T. Coraghessan Boyle ("Talk Talk")
(First published in Washington Post Book World)
Talk-talk about your bad boys! T. Coraghessan Boyle has always shown an affinity for characters who have overdeveloped their delinquent sides: a veritable catalogue of Peck's Bad Boys. But never before his 11th novel, Talk Talk , has he actually named one Peck. Nor has he ever before gotten so far into the head of one that you're half-rooting for the fellow to succeed in his crime, in this case stealing the identity of another complex character, a deaf schoolteacher by the name of Dana Halter. Just before the book's publication date, which coincides with the 25th anniversary re-publication of Boyle's first novel, Water Music , Daniel Asa Rose reached him by phone at his home in Santa Barbara, Ca.
Daniel Asa Rose : I detect the clanking of dishes in the background. After all these books, are you such a pro that you give interviews even as you unload your dishwasher?
T.C. Boyle : I confess I am. But in my defense I should point out that I do 100 percent of all the work in this household: I cook the meals, I do the dishes, everything.
Q : In the book, Peck enjoys cooking, too. Do you and he make the same dishes: poached gnocchi, cordon bleu, semi-gourmet stuff like that?
TCB : The very same. And of course, Peck's character is revealed in the dishes he chooses. He thinks these are as classy as it gets.
Q : A poignant detail that helps us develop sympathy for him, even though we're supposed to feel sorry for his victim.
TCB : Isn't it wonderful when that happens? About halfway through, I realized I had the same problem old John Milton had with "Paradise Lost," in making Lucifer so much more attractive than Jesus. It makes for a richer kind of text if you can enter into the mind set of both antagonists. And after all, Dana is not perfect either.
Q : It's she, in fact, who spends time in jail -- so convincingly that it makes me wonder if you've ever experienced jail time yourself.
TCB : Yes, I have. But it's too embarrassing to talk about.
Q : Was it a youthful infraction?
TCB : It was. Early twenties.
Q : Just an overnight?
TCB : Not even an overnight.
Q : Oh, just a James Frey episode. A two-minute school tour?
TCB : [laughs] Yes, it depends on which version you believe.
Q : Talk about the rage Peck feels. Was that close to the bone, too?
TCB : Well, you know, we big apes are prone to rage and greed and jealousy. I was a very, very disaffected and angry youth. I didn't know exactly why. It's a tendency in our species for young males to feel that way. Anger at authority, I guess. Trying to establish our identity as opposed to the authority that stands over us.
Q : Are you less angry now that you're pushing 60?
TCB : Certainly, but get me out on the road, boy, on the way to L.A. . . . I've never told anyone this before, but I'm thinking of giving up writing and joining the California Highway Police so that I can pull over ladies in their Mercedes on their cell phones. I don't want to ticket them. I want to shoot them and set their cars on fire.
Q : Oh, good, a scoop.
TCB : It's all yours.
Q : Speaking of identity, can you tell me something about why you changed your middle name, when you were 17, from John to Coraghessan?
TCB : Well, here too, I needed to establish that identity for myself. "Thomas John Boyle" was just too ordinary, like "Joseph David Smith." I hadn't begun to write yet, but I had all sorts of pretensions about being something or other, and I thought a nice fancy name would help. Coraghessan is a family name on my mother's side. Irish.
Q : Is it connected with that piercing author photo of yours? It's always struck me that you're striving for an effect.
TCB : I always felt you were never supposed to smile for the camera; you're supposed to be intense and angry. The truth is, when I first began to have some attention, I wanted to project the persona of a rock-and-roll guy.
Q : The chief difference being, of course, that they have groupies.
TCB : And I'm married to my college sweetheart, whom I read to every day, while she knits.
Q : Ah, that's the payback. You do the household chores, but she listens.
TCB : She's a saint. She's my polar opposite in every way, except in our values. And if she should be abducted by aliens or go to some other place before me, I'll just get a stuffed effigy who knits.
Q : How long have you been married?
TCB : We're coming up on our 75th wedding anniversary.
Q : Congratulations.
TCB : Yes, and that's another thing. After rock star and movie star, I think English professor/writer is the least likely to be married only once. In fact, I think I'm the only writer in history who's only had one wife!
Q : I'll have to research that.
TCB : But about the photographs, now I say to myself, "Hey, look, you've reached an age, why don't you smile?" So I may just post a few.
Q : Another scoop! Thank you. And now I notice that you're finally done with unstacking the dishes. That must have been one industrial-sized dishwasher.
TCB : [laughs] Well, we have three children. We keep it filled.
Q : So what's your next household task?
TCB : I think when this is over, I'll go clean out the pond, get all the muck out. It'll be a meditative experience. ˇ