It’s no big deal: you’re running late for a dental appointment, you jump a ‘stop’ sign and, as bad luck would have it, a police car pulls you over. You apologise, show your ID. At worst, he’ll issue a ticket; at best, you’ll be let off with a caution. But no, what the cop does is draw his gun, cuff you and run you in to the station, where you’re charged with a whole crop of crimes and banged up in a cell with assorted urban no-goods. This is the grab-you-by-the-throat opening to a new novel by one of America’s finest storytellers, T C Boyle (when did the Coraghessan get reduced to a ‘C’? I liked Coraghessan). His heroine, Dana Halter, can only believe it’s a case of mistaken identity which will soon be cleared up. Unfortunately for her, she’s the victim of something far more complicated and disturbing: identity theft. She may be innocent of the charges, but the crime was perpetrated by someone who has skimmed, indeed assumed, her ID as a front for his criminal scams. It doesn’t help that Dana is profoundly deaf, which adds layers of confusion to an already befuddled police interrogation. After a couple of days in jail and a court appearance, she is finally set free, her innocence established. But Dana is degraded, humiliated, furious; with no help forthcoming from the police, she is determined to track down the ‘thief’ herself and reclaim that most intangible of properties: her identity.
It’s a compelling set-up that draws you right into her plight, and once Boyle has you there he seldom loosens hold. This method has long been his forte. But what makes him interesting as well as enjoyable to read is that his stories are invariably informed by contemporary sociopolitical issues