Talk (2002)

Talk: A Novel in Dialogue
Livingston Press 2002
Hardcover, $27.oo, Paperback $14.00

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“Corey Mesler’s Talk is a brilliant tour de force of a novel, witty and wise and zingy with the zeitgeist. This is indeed an auspicious fiction debut.”
Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

“Corey Mesler’s novel-in-dialogue Talk is a smart, funny, harrowing look at the way language at once defines us and fails to sustain us. Talk is a bittersweet gospel for our time.”
Steve Stern, Jewish Book Award winner for The Wedding Jester

 “Talk is original and evocative. Mesler has a sharp ear not only for how we say things, but, more importantly, for what the words really mean. A unique reading experience.”
John Grisham

 “You’ll be surprised how sexy a book made out of dialogue can be. It’s a wonderful, funny, touching story. Buy it and read it and you’ll be glad you did.”
Frederick Barthelme, author of Moon Deluxe

 “A refreshingly realistic, intelligent and sexy novel.”
Lee Smith, author of Oral History

“It is a bit of Beckett, sprinkled generously with Mamet…In the end…this book is a well-crafted exploration of a life of ‘quiet desperation’.”
Doug Ibbetson, Ibbetson Review

“I so loved Talk—it is new and unique, hot and immediate—I could not put it down…one of the best books of the year, and I have touted it as such to my friends and fellow writers.”
Suzanne Kingsbury, author of The Summer Fletcher Greel Loved Me

“By illustrating through Jim’s struggles how dialogues with the self, others, and the world may be the only way of grasping meaning in our lives,
Mesler says that it is and isn’t all just talk.”
Ralph Clare, in The Review of Contemporary Fiction

“What a smooth, bright, sophisticated piece of work—and how gutsy, too—all that damned fool stuff like furniture that everybody else fusses with that you ignore,”
David Markson, author of This is Not a Novel and Springer’s Progress

“In a word, wow. I was struck by the bravery of the book and the sheer bedrock intelligence behind it. It’s hard to write in such a learned way and make it accessible but Talk does it. There is more intelligence and humanity in it than in anything Woody Allen ever did, to my tastes.”
Cynthia Shearer, author of The Celestial Jukebox

“So few writers can achieve good dialogue and Mesler hits every note on key. I always knew exactly who was speaking…and he kept such tension among a remarkable set of characters.”
Cary Holladay, author of Mercury


“Talk is the best thing I’ve read in so long I cannot get over it.  It’s just so right, so now, so sexy…”

                       —Margaret Skinner, author of Molly Flanagan and the Holy Ghost

“It is a bit of Beckett, sprinkled generously with Mamet…In the end…this book is a well-crafted exploration of a life of ‘quiet desperation’.”

Doug Ibbetson, Ibbetson Review

“I love Talk—it has so much warmth and humor.  It has Bruno Schulz.  It’s a smart book and I hope it gets the audience it deserves.”

Miles Gibson, author of Mr. Romance and The Sandman


“Corey Mesler’s novel, Talk, is a dialogue novel, and it poses a challenge to the reader since it is divested of even the smallest narrative framing material such as inquit formulae or contextualizing comments.  Speaker attributions have to be inferred from what is said and in which manner. What emerges is a tapestry of everyday verbal interactions that show the protagonist, a bookseller named Jim, in his dealings with friends, family and customers, and—as the story unfolds—with his newly found lover…

By using dialogue…the novel becomes a self-referential vehicle for Mesler’s own playful dialogue with his readers—for example, when he implicates himself in his main protagonist, who happens to have the same job and to be around the same age (a strategy reminiscent of Philip Roth’s fiction)…The novel also enters a dialogue with other, similar works of fiction and thus becomes dialogical in a metaphorical sense. And it seems to enter a dialogic relationship with its readers, offering them participatory spaces. The novel thus enacts on multiple levels what its protagonist Jim in the end calls ‘our pitiful attempts at connection.’

…Nicholson Baker’s novel Vox [is] a novel in which a man and a woman phone up a dating hotline and have lengthy conversations about sexual matters. In fact, the entire novel is almost exclusively a representation of that same conversation. In this regard, Mesler’s novel resembles Baker’s, at least in those parts where Jim meets his lover, Katya. The lovers’ illicit sex talk is highly suggestive even though it merely forms a verbal backdrop to erotic scenes the two fantasize about and only gradually come to act out more fully. Nothing really happens in the sense that they never have vaginal intercourse. Instead, they give each other massages, play strip poker and at some point even have oral sex. Nevertheless, dialogue in those love scenes becomes the ‘hottest medium of all’ (Baker) because it provides not only the characters, but also the readers with powerful mental images…

The characters in Mesler’s novel constantly reflect on the very nature of talk, its purposes and effects. They use what Rusch and Bateson called ‘meta-communication,’ i.e., those parts of communication that give a clue as to how utterances are to be interpreted. In other words, meta-communication shows that speakers, in the very process of speaking, reflect on how their conversation is going and, by commenting on it, try to adjust it…

The ending to the novel is quite remarkable in that it raises the theme of talk not only on a meta-linguistic but also on a meta-fictional level because everything that Jim says here to his unknown interlocutor is what Corey Mesler could be saying to his reading audience. Dialogue is what he presented to his readers, thus also flinging his novel into the ‘silence that surrounds us all.’

…The reflection on talk moves beyond the level of characters in Mesler’s novel as soon as one takes the book into hand. The pictures by Tim Crowder on the book’s covers already point to the novel’s overall theme and the problems of talk explored in the text. The front cover design shows a portrait of a person whose head is replaced by empty speech bubbles bulging out of this person’s shirt collar, with some of those bubbles already dropping down…The attempt at communicating in this picture is also the central theme of Mesler’s novel…

While Philip Roth plays with readers’ expectations because he initially presents his novel as autobiographical…but then refutes its factuality, Mesler moves in the opposite direction by immediately flagging the book as a work of fiction (‘a novel in dialogue’) only to then implicitly invite comparisons with his own real persona as known by or presented to his reading audience. In using postmodern strategies that make readers potentially conflate the author and character Mesler, in a way, presents his novel as both similar to and different from Roth’s fiction. It is thus dialogical in a metaphorical sense, foregrounding the way in which literary texts are intertextually linked with other texts…

Since the novel does not provide any narrational contextualizing material readers have to make inferences as to the backgrounds to the talk, speakers’ motivations and emotions, even as to the very question who is currently speaking to whom. In a sense, they become third-party interlocutors, engaging in the conversations alongside the actual characters of the novel. More explicit conversational spaces are offered to readers in Mesler’s meta-fictional games with the notion of talk. Not only do characters verbalize their thoughts on communicative problems and intricacies, Mesler himself seems to address us through intertextual cross-references and quasi-philosophical excursions, inviting us to draw certain connections…Ultimately, the novel epitomizes the ‘pitiful attempts at communication’ that humans undertake because they are dialogical and relational beings.”


Jarmila Mildorf, in Imaginary Dialogues in American Literature and Philosophy, Heidelberg, 2014

Cover art by Tim Crowder

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