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Sprich mit mir: Roman de T.C. Boyle
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Sprich mit mir: Roman

de T.C. Boyle

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Talk to Me de T. C. Boyle

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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.

Aimee 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 near Sam.

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.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.
http://www.shetreadssoftly.com/2021/09/talk-to-me.html
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/4228281307 ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Sep 9, 2021 |
I don't know why I keep reading books about chimps. They always make me sad in the end... Something about how human chimps are, and how badly us humans often treat them.
Set in the '70s, this book follows a juvenile chimpanzee called Sam. Sam doesn't know he's a chimp. He's been brought up as a human child with a human family. Guy, the researcher who has raised him,. has recently separated from his wife and is relying on students at the university where he teaches to help care for Sam.

Sam has been taught sign language and Guy is determined to use this grasp of language to find out exactly how chimps might think and feel. But to keep the research going, he needs to keep funding for the project. Raising a chimp isn't cheap!

So Sam gets trotted out on talk shows to strut his stuff in the hope that wealthy benefactors might donate. And one night Aimee, a student at the university, sees one of these appearances and is entranced. She applies to help care for Sam the next day.

It isn't long before she and Sam are inseparable. And a little later she begins sleeping with Guy. It's all happy families until the head of the research project pulls the plug and takes Sam back to his farm in Iowa.

Aimee doesn't think twice before packing her car and going after Sam. She's as bonded to the chimp as any mother to her child. But with people this ruthless on her heels, it's not going to be an easy ride...

I loved the way the book interspersed the narrative with chapters from Sam's own point of view. His distress and fear when locked up is palpable as is his joy when Aimee reappears. I'm not sure if chimps really think this way, but it feels very plausible for a chimp who was brought up as a human.

What I'm really not sure about is the ethics of bringing a chimp up this way. I've read several books in which this has happened, and it's always fine while the chimp is young. As soon as they get older, reach adolescence, things start spiralling out of control.

I find it hard to believe someone as cruel as Montcrief would be in charge of animals and running an animal study, but apart from this broad, villainous characterisation, the other characters were very well drawn - even if they weren't all great people. I particularly liked the woman who ran the trailer park. Her decision-making felt all too real.

I'd recommend this one, but with the warning that you may want to keep some tissues handy. It's thought-provoking, but also very sad. ( )
  Vampyr14 | Aug 24, 2021 |
Obwohl ich bereits viel Gutes über dieses Buch gehört und gelesen habe, war ich doch skeptisch. Ein Schimpanse. Forschung. Tierversuche. Beziehung Mensch-Affe. Irgendwie fühlte ich spontan an Die Fabelhaften Schwestern der Familie Cooke erinnert, ein Buch, in das ich nicht so richtig reingefunden habe. Nun ist die Handlung von T.C. Boyle's neustem Werk sicher eine andere. Und doch war es relativ schnell klar: NEIN. Ich konnte mit dem Buch nicht weitermachen. Vor allem die Szenen aus Sicht des Tieres fand ich zur Hälfte verstörend grausam und irgendwie unglaubwürdig. Nicht, weil ich mir nicht vorstellen kann, dass ein Tier so empfindet. Ich bin sogar überzeugt davon. Aber wie es hier dargestellt war, hat mich eben nicht überzeugt. Zu den handelnden Personen fand ich überdies keinen Zugang. Und wieder mal wurde bewiesen: ich sollte auf mein Bauchgefühl hören. Es hatte mir schon verraten, dass es mit dem Buch möglicherweise nicht klappen könnte.
  Heidi64 | Jul 18, 2021 |
Of course, Talk To Me was sure to be a hoot, coming from T. C. Boyle. A chimp is raised by humans, thinks it is a human, talks with sign language. A young student applies to be a caretaker, and soon it’s a King Kong beast loves woman story. Sam, the chimp, and Aimee, a willing Fay Wray, have a love story for the ages. They live together, sleep together, play together. And Sam will do anything to protect her. (No, there is no sex involved, which is physically impossible we are told.)

The professor in charge of the experiment to teach Sam language is also pleased with the pretty, shy Aimee and he makes her his paramour, sneaking in love-making behind Sam’s back.

Sam is charming. He may even appear on the Johnny Carson show. Everyone is happy.

Except the man who actually owns Sam and funds the experiment. The idea of primates talking falls out of favor, funding dries up, and it’s time to put Sam back into a lab cage and make a monkey out of him again. Aimee can’t desert Sam and she offers herself as free labor in the lab, cleaning up ape shit and feeding them monkey kibble.

Aimee steals Sam and they run away together into the high desert. And that works for a while, but it all catches up with them. The story ends with a dramatic confrontation, the evil bad guy getting what’s coming to him. But Aimee must make a horrific decision.

In many ways, this novel is a lark, with a dose of suspense. But it also posits questions about relationships, communication, and animal consciousness.

Aimee had “given herself over to something she couldn’t explain, a deep connection with another soul, whether it be human or not.” Usually, we humans connect with animals like dogs and cats, sometimes horses. As I child, I was certain that I had a deep understanding with my pet dog Pepper. And all my life, I believed that dogs understood that I loved them and they loved me back. And even if our Suki understood lots of what we said, from ‘walk’ and ‘sit’ and ‘turn right’ and even ‘Go get Kaze’ when our blind dog got lost in the back yard, she could only communicate back with deep looks, pacing, and waiting at the door.

What if a creature did learn to communicate in ways we understood? What would it tell us? Sam recognized his photograph and categorized it with ‘humans’ not with ‘chimps,’ who he called Black Bugs when he finally met his own kind. He could lie and plot devious escape plans. But did he regret biting his first caretaker? When he asked forgiveness, or would not forgive, did he understand morality?

Human love failed Aimee. Sam never did. And so, the book is also a tragic love story.

Although I read T. C. Boyle’s early novels when they came out, its been a while since I last read him and I am glad to have read this new book.

I received a free egalley from Ecco through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased. ( )
  nancyadair | Jul 15, 2021 |
Thank you to Ecco/HarperCollins for sending me an advanced readers copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

It's 1979, and psychology Professor Guy Schermerhorn believes that a true communication breakthrough is imminent with Sam, a chimp who knows sign language. His wife, Melanie, was Sam's "mother," but she bailed on this rather grueling arrangement which is dirty, thankless, and all about Guy's bid for academic fame and glory. Enter Aimee, a sweet and apparently gullible young student. Her all-out commitment to being a caregiver for Sam will push her to grow in unexpected ways. Aimee's student predecessor also washed out of the job when Sam injured her.

"Talk to Me" has an edgy feeling typical of Boyle; off-kilter, like anything could happen in a flash. In one paragraph Boyle is almost rhapsodic, then in the next, he flips into rapid-fire bluntness which adds to the dangerous mood. Boyle writes from Sam's perspective part of the time, and at first, the reader doesn't know the time frame of the parts that are written from Sam's perspective. Sam's voice is dead compelling and makes the reader identify with Aimee's sympathy for him. Guy (who is creepy to the point of being almost predatory) is happy to take full advantage of Aimee's affection for Sam and enthusiasm for the experiment. Indeed Aimee seems indifferent about her grades and her future; she becomes every bit as obsessed with Sam as it suits Guy for her to be.

The clock is ticking. As an adult chimpanzee, Sam will be strong and likely unmanageable. If any advance beyond signs is to occur, it needs to happen while Sam is a juvenile (or so Guy thinks). Will Sam become too much for even Aimee to manage? She has a closer bond with him than either Guy, who raised him and taught him to communicate via signs, or the evil Dr. Montcrief, who owns Sam and is running out of patience.

Ultimately it feels as though intelligence and communication don't matter as much as power and weapons, and it is the observers, not the communicators, who define a "breakthrough." If they are not observing and recording the advance in chimp communication, it isn't happening. What that is high and noble actually separates humans from apes? Not much, in the case of the professors, or those weaker individuals whom these alpha males decide to use and abuse to suit their own ends. Or, for that matter, the determination of the victims to risk everything to take care of each other, cross-species or not.

Aimee was not as strong a character as some of Boyle's other female characters, although maybe that was the point--she is instantaneously subsumed within a professor and a chimp, and will not become a full person until later. I was unable to really get a bead on her at all. Other than that, the book is simply stunning and really thought-provoking. ( )
  jillrhudy | Apr 28, 2021 |
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