Linda Rosenkrantz’s book Talk is a collection of the real-life conversations between Rosenkrantz and her two best friends, which she recorded during the summer of 1965 and transcribed into twenty-eight chapters of carefully selected dialogue. The book contains the universal topics of sex, love, food, self-identity and mental health and reflects the anxieties of a post-pill generation influenced by the social, political- and sexual revolution of the Sixties.
Reading this book will make you feel as if you are stuck in a claustrophobic elevator with three, blatantly self-absorbed thirty-somethings, forcing you to listen to their uncomfortably honest conversations about orgies, drugs and dysfunctional relationships. If you switch out the elevator with the scenery of a sandy beach in East Hampton during the 1960s, you basically have the whole plot of the book summed up in a sentence. Whether or not this was the author’s intention, the book is worth discussing for the originality of the idea and process behind it. Talk may not be a mind-expanding, highbrow treasure of fiction or a riveting rollercoaster of emotional suspense, but it deserves to be regarded as a literary experiment existing on the fringes of autobiographical fiction.
The day after she received her copy, my mother, traumatized, made a beeline for the nearest therapist’s office. My father, on the other hand, viewed the book only as an object, something he could show off to his colleagues.
In the short introduction by Stephen Koch, we are told that the character of Marsha, who is the fictive persona of Rosenkrantz, spends most of her days relaxing by the beach with her friends Emily and Vincent. The book begins in medias res and the dialogue between the characters not only functions as an insight into their personal lives, but also provides a commentary on their surroundings with the beach being described as ‘a party, with the pretense of being a beach, a kind of fantasy charade of people’s projections’ (196).
The many chapters of the book gradually reveal the ambiguously romantic friendship between the heterosexual Marsha and the homosexual Vincent. They also showcase the anxieties of Emily, an actress who moans about her alcoholic tendencies, drug-induced revelations and expensive sessions of psychoanalytic therapy. Each chapter is described with a playful title, such as Emily Relates Her Psychedelic Experience to Vincent, Emily and Marsha compare Childhood Traumata and Marsha Interrupts a Discussion of Herself. The natural understanding and display of humour exchanged between the three characters is shown in their frequent use of witty comebacks, sarcastic jokes and wordplay. An example of this can be found in chapter 21. when Marsha and Emily play a game where Marsha has to guess a person and Emily has to describe the person by comparing him/her to an inanimate object, as seen in the following lines:
Here’s a good question for you to ask – would this person take tranquilizers or pep-ups?
No, that’s not allowed – you have to ask what kind of tranquilizer he would be. What kind?
If he were a dessert?
Doesn’t that man over there in the green trunks look like a desexualized Picasso?
A cross between Stravinsky and Picasso. You didn’t answer my dessert question.
A sliced apple.
Just one slice of apple without any trimmings?
A peeled, sliced apple.
I have a feeling it might not even be a man. If this person were an object to make love on, what would it be?
Very good question – okay, gynaecologist ’s table.
MARSHA: I hate this person.
In the article ‘Sex, Lies and Audiotape’ published in The Paris Review, Rosenkrantz mentions the publication of Talk and confesses ‘the day after she received her copy, my mother, traumatized, made a beeline for the nearest therapist’s office. My father, on the other hand, viewed the book only as an object, something he could show off to his colleagues.’ Having read the book, I can honestly say that I can relate to both parents. Firstly, I struggled to overlook the tone of the conversations in the book, which mostly came across as pseudo-intellectual blabber attempting to camouflage itself as discussions of heightened self-awareness. Secondly, I eventually displayed the book on my nightstand but it was purely for the sake of appreciating the pretty cover, which did not make up for the overall reading experience.
Talk was re-published in 2015, which stands as a testimony to its ability to be relatable and relevant more than five decades after its original publication in 1968, as it mirrors the modern-day pandemic of self-exposure and public confessions made possible with today’s technology. What makes the book so frustrating to read, apart from the lack of an overarching narrative and plotline, is the unfiltered honesty of its characters. Their self-exposing confessions make them seem both highly theatrical and obnoxiously self-absorbed, which may also be the essence of what makes them feel relatable. Most of us would probably discover that a sound recording of our own private conversations with friends, would eventually taint us with a similar touch of unlikeable honesty. I will therefore leave it up to the individual reader to decide if this makes Talk worth putting on the bookshelf.
Talk, Linda Rosenkrantz (1968)
‘Sex, Lies and Audiotape,’ The Paris Review, Linda Rosenkrantz (2015)