“Talk to Me” — a devastating, hilarious fall to earth

The view from above was stunning.

The cliche 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 make-up 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devastatingly emotional tale of the age of internet and instant news, when the past isn’t past and one hasn’t become outdated on what could happen online.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.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is the bookworm.


• By TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER, Bookworm Sez


More in Life

Bacon is prepared on a fire pit, June 19, 2020, in the Copper River Valley, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Kalifornsky Kitchen: Eating from fire

My attitude toward camp cooking is that you can eat pretty much anything you would eat at home.

Irene Lampe dances a robe for its First Dance ceremony at the Sealaska Heritage Institute on Monday, June 22, 2020. (Courtesy photo | Annie Bartholomew)
Weavers celebrate new robe with first dance

The event is part of a resurgent trend for traditional weaving.

Kalifornsky Kitchen: Summer traditions

Over the years, a paella feed has marked momentous occasions, like moving or birthday parties.

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Looking in the rearview mirror

I stepped through a time warp last week.

Concert on Your Lawn revives spirit of KBBI festival

The concert came about after the pandemic forced KBBI to cancel a planned Solstice weekend concert.

Minister’s Message: Finding hope in dark times

A life lived without hope is like a life lived without love.

Morel pasta is enjoyed outside on May 19, 2019, near Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Kalifornsky Kitchen: Morels all the ways

When the Swan Lake Fire started, we knew we had an opportunity to get even more morels.

This portrait—one of few that Richard Shackelford reportedly allowed to be published—graced the 1909 commencement booklet for the California Polytechnic School, of which he was the president of the Board of Trustees. (Photo courtesy Clark Fair)
A tale of Two Shacklefords, in a way — part three

Untangling the origins of Shackleford Creek’s name.

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: It’s all in the game

It’s amazing what a deck of cards or a set of dice can teach a young person.

Kachemak Cuisine: Find comfort in hard times by cooking good food

The first tastes of spring for me are rhubarb, fresh-caught fish from Kachemak Bay and chives.

Fiddlehead ferns shooting up from the ground, on May 24 in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Foraging for fiddleheads

Springtime in Alaska is the beginning of foraging season for me.