When animal behaviorist Guy Schermerhorn demonstrates on a TV game show that he has taught Sam, his juvenile chimp, to speak in sign language, Aimee Villard, an undergraduate at Guy's university, is so taken with the performance that she applies to become his assistant. A romantic and intellectual attachment soon morphs into an interspecies love triangle.
Howlingly marvelous ... The novel is one of Boyle’s recent best, as good as his previous novel...a National Book Award finalist ... Boyle’s masterly storytelling and shrewd social commentary have much in common with Charles Dickens; his laid-back, colloquial prose is maximalist rather than minimalist, with a touch of acute satire ... Taken out of context — like scenes in much of Dickens — these may sound absurd and melodramatic, but Boyle renders them believable ... If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief about anthropomorphism, you’ll enjoy this gripping and inescapably bittersweet book, in which Boyle suggests our debt to our predetermined animal natures.
Make no mistake, Sam is a fully developed character with a pronounced point of view. There’s always a gamble in shifting point of view to a non-human character, but Boyle does so convincingly. Sam’s sections feel natural, believable. And it’s the strength of that writing that gives the novel its punch ... Boyle is generally successful in avoiding telling the reader how to feel by using the most basic tools available to the novelist: creating sympathetic characters and placing them in situations that touch the reader’s emotions. That some of these characters aren’t human is irrelevant. Talk to Me is an engrossing, thought-provoking read.
In his retelling, Boyle takes this story first to California, later to the middle of the country and occasionally past the point of believability. The good news is that the storytelling itself moves. Talk to Me is flawed, but it’s never dull. Boyle’s writing is propulsive, sometimes breathlessly so ... As the story races forward, with Aimee and Sam on the run, fresh ideas get left behind. Talk to Me is not just set four decades in the past; it’s stuck there, too. Reading this book can feel like rubbernecking at history while essential evaluations of humanity’s relationship with other species are taking place elsewhere ... it’s unfortunate to encounter a novel that riffs on our mistakes while not quite reckoning with them. That it comes from Boyle, whose work is rich with provocative and masterful warnings about crossing Mother Nature, is doubly disappointing. It didn’t have to be this way.