Books

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Talk to Me’ by John Kenney

c.2019, Putnam
$26 ($35 Canada)
304 pages

By Terri Schlichenmeyer
WI Contributing Writer

The view from above was stunning.

The cliché says that people look like ants when you’re looking down from a ledge, and they do. Trees look like the lint you’d pick off a sweater, and it seems like you could reach out and grab a cloud. It’s humbling and powerful, but in the new novel “Talk to Me” by John Kenney, it’s a long way down from any height.

Ted Grayson was falling.

He’d hired the instructor just hours ago, gotten a quick lesson on skydiving, and he’d been pushed out of the plane, just like in the movies. The instructor assured Ted that he’d survive this experience. Thing was, Ted didn’t want to.

It all started on his birthday, didn’t it? Or was it when his daughter, Frannie, was a teenager and had rebelled, as teenagers do? No, the beginning of the end was when Ted let his marriage slowly die, he’d stopped coming home after the last newscast, he lost interest in his wife, and Claire met someone else. Someone, she so harshly pointed out, who was “happy.”

But his birthday was the cherry on the sundae. Ted was in “a mood,” wrapping up the last story of the night when one thing led to another and another and he exploded, calling the temporary makeup girl something vile. It wasn’t on-camera — he was too professional for that — but on video and then, to his befuddled regret, online. Suddenly, Ted Grayson, news anchor to millions, was Ted Grayson, internet fool.

And don’t think he didn’t apologize. He did, but the ridicule expanded upon itself when someone dug up an ancient clip of a battle-hardened soldier insulting Ted. The station was inundated with protesters and calls for Ted’s firing. Women’s groups were incensed. Then Frannie wrote a scathing story about her father and though it wasn’t her intention, the story went viral.

And so, in more ways than one, Ted Grayson was falling…

If ever there was a book plucked from real life, “Talk to Me” is it.

Beginning with a miserable last-ditch aim at suicide, author John Kenney tells a blunt, hilariously nuanced but devastatingly emotional tale of the age of internet and instant news, when the past isn’t past and one hasn’t become outdated on what could happen online. It’s altogether too easy to see yourself in this novel, in other words, and that’s like a gut punch.

And yet, you’ll laugh because Kenney is profane, with a biting, spit-out-your-coffee kind of wit that underscores the pathos and irony of it all. Indeed, Ted is nasty, but so is what happened to him and schadenfreude weeps from each page. You’ll see it, especially if you’ve ever snorted at someone else’s gaffe.

But again, the reality sets in. We could be Ted. Ted is us.

What a novel.

Readers who relish a little snark with their story will love this one, as will those who enjoy tattletale videos and gossip mags. “Talk to Me” will make you think, and you won’t want to put it down.

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