Cover image for Talk to me
Title:
Talk to me
ISBN:
9780735214378
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons, [2019]

©2019
Physical Description:
304 pages ; 24 cm
Summary:
"From New Yorker writer and Thurber Prize-winning author of Truth in Advertising comes a wry yet tenderhearted father-daughter story that looks at family, marriage, and fame through the lens of a popular TV anchor's public fall from grace" -- Provided by publisher.

Network TV anchor Ted Grayson has reported time and time on the public downfall of those at the top. He just never imagined that it would happen to him. A profanity-laced tirade is caught on camera; his reputation and career are destroyed. His years of constant travel and his big-screen persona have frayed his family relationships: Ted is estranged from his wife, Claire, and his adult daughter, Franny, a writer for a popular website. When her boss suggests Franny confront Ted in an interview, she has to decide whether to use his loss as her career gain. -- adapted from jacket
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Summary

Summary

After news anchor Ted Grayson's profanity-laced tirade is caught on camera, his reputation and career are destroyed, leaving him without a script for the first time in years. At the time of his meltdown, Ted is estranged from his wife, Claire, and his adult daughter, Franny, a writer for a popular website. Franny views her father's disgrace with curiosity and perhaps a bit of smug satisfaction, but when her boss suggests that she confront Ted in an interview, she has to decide whether to use his loss as her career gain. And for Ted, this may be a chance to try to find his way back before it's too late.


Author Notes

John Kenney is the author of Truth in Advertising , which won the Thurber Prize for American Humor in 2014. He has worked as a copywriter in New York City for seventeen years. He has also been a contributor to The New Yorker magazine since 1999. Some of his work appears in a collection of The New Yorker 's humor writing, Disquiet, Please! He lives in Brooklyn, New York.


Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Kenney's bittersweet, darkly funny latest (after Truth in Advertising) is equal parts family drama and commentary on communication and news consumption in the age of instant gratification. Fifty-nine-year-old New York anchorman Ted Grayson has been the beloved-and ruggedly handsome-face of the national evening news for 20 years. But a vicious epithet (which he immediately regrets) hurled at a young female hairstylist on a particularly bad day (and caught on video) proves to be his undoing. Additionally, Claire, his wife of 30 years, has fallen in love with someone else, and his daughter, Franny, won't speak to him. When the video leaks, the retribution is swift and brutal: he's skewered by the press, hounded by protesters, and eventually fired. When Franny, who writes for a sensationalist online rag and is thoroughly unsatisfied with her own life, asks him to do an interview, he accepts, but it has unintended consequences that force Franny to examine her own life and her fractured relationship with her father. Kenney is supremely gifted at creating flawed, vivid characters and capturing the wonder, ennui, and heartbreak of marriage and parenthood, and the seemingly small moments that make life precious. The conclusion, while satisfying, offers no easy solutions, but it does offer a healthy dose of hope. This is a fun, winning novel. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

Old-school nightly news anchor Ted got caught on video calling an assistant, a young woman from Poland, a Russian whore. A minor miscommunication over hairspray provoked his out-of-character attack which went viral, naturally but it was the proverbial last straw. Ted's wife, Claire, just asked for a divorce; he's experiencing a disconcerting pain; and his only child, Franny, works for a cartoonishly corrupt news outlet called Scheisse and doesn't speak to him. When Franny agrees to her bad-boy boss' proposal that she profile Ted in his tailspin, Ted must ultimately accept that his decades as a reporter don't make up for his slip or even correspond to what people want from the news anymore and examine the ways he failed Claire and Franny. Kenney's (Truth in Advertising, 2013) timely satire succeeds with significant nuance. Ted did a bad thing and can't seem to stop fumbling, but it won't be hard for readers to find sympathy for the devil. Most winning, though, are Kenney's incisive considerations of parenthood, familial love, and what actually matters when all is seemingly lost.--Annie Bostrom Copyright 2018 Booklist


Excerpts

Excerpts

Ted has been pushed out of an airplane.   Ted Grayson had been pushed out of an airplane.   He had been pushed because at the last moment he was frozen with fear and unable to jump. Now he was falling at 120 miles per hour and the feeling was an odd combination of terror and relief. The speed of the fall when he exited the plane took his breath away. His goggles sucked to his face; his eyes felt as if they were being pulled back into his head, the pressure tremendous. Ted fell and he fell and he fell and he felt that he would never stop falling. It had been exactly two point five seconds so far.   It was a Sunday. He knew that. A Sunday in mid-April. Or was it late April? He wasn't sure. Strange to not know the date. It was late morning. He was fairly sure of that. The small plane had climbed from the airfield on eastern Long Island into clear blue skies. As the plane banked left, Ted could see the ocean below. He sat in his jumpsuit, in the cramped quarters of the plane, Raymond next to him.   It had been cold on the plane. Colder still when Raymond slid the door open. The sound of the wind. The momentary panic-fear of what he was about to do. So Raymond had given him a little nudge. Fine. He'd pushed him, full on. He'd had to do that a fair amount in this job. People got excited and brave on the ground. Quite another thing to stare down from ten thousand feet with nothing between you and God's green earth but the thin silk on your back.   Ted fell.   He thought he might throw up. He thought he might pass out. He thought he might already be dead. It was happening so fast. He lay flat on his belly, just as they'd practiced, Ted and Raymond, arms out, staring straight down. How he'd arrived in this position he wasn't sure. He raised his head and saw Raymond, smiling, two fat thumbs up, just another day at the office, as if they were sitting across from each other at a Starbucks enjoying Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Raymond, still smiling, tapped his oversized outdoorsman watch. It was time. Indeed, it was, thought Ted.   Raymond, the former army sergeant, who said he hadn't been planning on going up today. Raymond, who at first didn't recognize Ted. Raymond, who had to call in his pilot, Alvin, from out in Greenport. Raymond wore a GoPro camera on his helmet. Filmed the whole thing. "Hell, we even send you a little movie of it," he told Ted. "Email it to you before you're back in Manhattan."   The three of them had boarded the small plane, a 1982 Cessna T303 Crusader, according to Raymond. Miracle it still flew, he said, cackling, as Alvin pulled the stick back and launched them up over the airstrip, banked left, out over the ocean, the empty beaches of eastern Long Island, climbing, higher, the noise of the engine drowning out Raymond's incessant talking, Ted seeing the ocean, a distant boat, and remembering Franny's words from the story.     Raymond held up three beefy fingers and pointed to them with his other hand, the agreed-upon sign. He folded one down. Two fingers now. Time slowed down for Ted. It was taking an eternity. Raymond folded another down. One finger. TheyÕd gone over this on the ground, again and again. ÒI like repeat customers,Ó Raymond had said. ÒThatÕs why we wear two chutes. Both chutes fail, well, the good Lord has other plans for you . . .Ó   Here's what else went through Ted's mind.   Screw Ted Grayson. This speck of a man falling from the sky. The world had handed him a microphone and asked him to tell them a story. Engage me, they'd said. Inform me. Thrill me. Enlighten me. And what had he done? Bored them.   Also the time he tailgated a person because of a bad mood, because he was in a rush. Honking, flashing his lights, jumping out of his car at the stoplight and pulling from the backseat a wood-handled Bancroft tennis racket, waving it like John McEnroe, only to find an eighty-year-old handicapped woman at the wheel.   And the time a diminutive homeless man reached out to touch him as he stepped out of a limousine, Ted surprised and frightened by the man, a contorted face shouting, "Fuck off, bum!"   And the time-fine, times-he'd been unfaithful to Claire. The years of distance, of ignoring her, of assuming she'd always be there.   And the time, recently, after the incident, he'd ignored the pleas of the network's lawyers and PR department and left the house, only to find a photo of himself on the cover of the following day's New York Post, disheveled, unshaven, having forgotten to zip his fly all the way up yet again, making what appeared to be a Nazi salute, when, in fact, it was simply a harmless attempt to hail a cab and escape the paparazzi.   Mostly, he thought of Franny. And the words she had used in the story. The world would see that she was lost to him. He couldn't reach her. His own daughter. He couldn't protect her now. And if you can't protect your child, what's the point of protecting yourself?   He went back to the hundreds of other images. Tiny, searing film clips that ran through his mind as he watched himself fall to Earth. The amount of callous, unthinking, uncaring asininity he'd committed in his life. The waste. A few years ago, a friend of Claire's died. A good man, a family man, a volunteer and coach. Kids weeping uncontrollably at the funeral. Overflowing church. Unfair, people said. But for Ted, who would show? No one would utter the word "unfair." They would wonder if they'd hit traffic after the service and what to make for dinner.   The decision was not spontaneous, he realized. It had been there all day. It had been there for weeks, in fact, during the whole nightmare. Now, falling, the image of it all so clear. Here was the answer to all that had happened. Ted had no intention of opening his chute.   He was tired of the shame. Tired of the deep sadness for the loss of his life. Of everything that had once seemed to make sense and now didn't. He was tired of being afraid of what would happen next, of what other public embarrassment would come his way. He had lost something vital to the living process that he was unable to name.   He heard the lead-in in his head. Ted Grayson, the longtime anchor of the evening news, died today in an embarrassing skydiving accident on eastern Long Island. Sources say the disgraced former newsman may have taken his own life. He was fifty-nine. (brief pause) When we come back: peanuts. Are they the new superfood?   No fingers now. Raymond made the motion to pull the chute. Raymond nodded. Ted nodded. Except then Ted did the one thing Raymond told him never to do. He pulled his arms in, aimed his head down, and suddenly he was Superman, heading toward the surface of the earth so fast he couldn't take it in. He had no control over his body so he began to roll. "Roll" is the wrong word. It was, instead, what Raymond had called a "death spin."   He was falling, in thin air. This line echoed in a distant place in his mind.   He could no longer move his arms and legs. He was going to pass out in a matter of seconds. He did not feel at all well. The fear and regret, a primal scream inside that he needed to give voice to. But nothing came out. How perfect. How fitting, he thought. America's anchorman, in his dying moments, unable to make a sound.   It's all there, on the GoPro. Ted's life, on video. Looking into the camera, asking, what happens next? What's the story?   Just keep watching.   We go live now to Ted Grayson in New York.   Two weeks earlier and Ted is in a mood.   Ninety seconds, Ted."   It's Lou, in Ted's earpiece. Ted's executive producer, Lou Arno.   They were in the middle of a two-and-a-half-minute commercial break, twenty-one minutes into the broadcast. One story left.   "The Triangle package," Lou said. "Your lead-in, the prerecorded piece. You'll have eight seconds after the story. Think you can handle that, buddy? Don't worry, though, you'll have copy. Not that you need it. It's almost like a real job."   Something about this last bit annoyed Ted. It was something Lou had said before, in his harmless Lou voice. But there was an edge to it. Or was Ted's bad mood filter adding the edge? He wasn't sure. Either way, it further unsettled his already stormy insides.   Ted glared in the direction of the control room, then reached for his cell phone under the desk. He checked emails, texts. There was one from Claire.   "In Bedford. Please stay in city. Might be best to speak through lawyers at this point. Also, happy birthday."   If that didn't say love, what did? Ted thought. Thirty years of marriage.   There was a text from Polly, Ted's agent and attorney, asking if they were still on for dinner. Polly Klein (nZe Paulette, a name she loathed) would meet him at Cafe Luxembourg at eight.   "Roger that?" Lou asked.   Lou could see Ted from the control room, through the glass, as well as on the live feeds from the two cameras on set. He could also look up at a bank on ten monitors showing live feeds from some of the affiliates on the East Coast.   "Swell," Ted said. He was supposed to say "Roger Mudd." It was a thing he and Lou said. Roger Mudd was a newscaster years ago who did a famous interview with Senator Ted Kennedy, who had recently announced that he was running for president. Mudd asked Kennedy why he wanted to be president. Kennedy looked flummoxed, fumbled around for words. Some say it cost him the nomination against then president Jimmy Carter in 1980.   Now, for some reason, Ted didn't feel like saying it. The whole thing, the saying of it, annoyed and embarrassed him.   "What's wrong, Teddy ballgame?" Lou pushed.   Ted turned to raise his middle finger to Lou but instead knocked over his water, soaking his script and a goodly portion of his pants. He heard Lou laughing, which only pissed him off more. A production assistant ran over with a roll of paper towels, dabbing the desk and then, awkwardly, Ted's wet lap. A sweet young kid name Greg. Or Larry. He wasn't sure. Overeager.   "Okay, okay," Ted barked, regretting his tone immediately.   The poor kid reacted like a scolded dog. "Sorry. And, um, happy birthday, Mister Grayson," he managed with a smile as he scampered off.   "Oh, that's right," Lou said, fully aware that it was Ted's birthday. "Happy seventieth," he added, chuckling.   Lou was a difficult-to-determine fifty-nine, rail thin, an early morning runner, poor sleeper, bald since the age of twenty-four, crew cut on the sides and back. Khakis, a polo shirt tucked in, and running shoes every day. In the winter, a fleece vest. A fast blinker, eyes darting. He had a hard time relaxing. But then, that was his job. Grace under pressure. A constant state of ready for the unexpected. The late feed. The botched feed. The live report gone bad. The show that was running short and needed to be lengthened. The show that was running long and needed to be cut. The breaking news story halfway through a broadcast. The raw rush of live TV. Lou loved it. He had been with the broadcast three years, having replaced Ted's longtime producer Roy Wilson, who retired after his third heart attack. Lou had hoped that he and Ted might become close. To date it hadn't happened.   Lou looked at his own phone, which seemed to beep nonstop. Links and feeds and reporters in the field, updates, weather, police scanner, fire scanner, White House, State House, London Bureau, Jerusalem Bureau, Jo-Burg, Moscow, Hong Kong, Beijing. Lou checked his phone and then looked back up, watching Ted, who-Lou could feel it-was in a mood. Lou would remember this, weeks later, months later. And not just because Lou had a bizarre memory for details, numbers, chronology. In the endless retelling to the initially small internal review board, then later to the larger investigative committee (the goddamned East German Stasi, if Lou were honest about it), to friends, to colleagues, to a reporter for the New York Post, in a moment of candor he regretted and was partially misquoted on (to his eternal regret and shame), and mostly to Phyllis, his wife, who listened as Lou held a large scotch and stared off into the backyard, when it still seemed so unreal.   Ted would remember it, too, of course. Though he would remember it differently and always with the makeup woman. The replacement. Natalia.     ÒThe king is in a foul temper,Ó Murray said to no one in particular. He sniffed his fingertips, a thing he did that annoyed his two colleagues, one of his many tics. Scratching his head aggressively. Poking at his inner ears. Sniffing his fingers. The traits of a man who lived alone.   Grace ignored him and continued typing. Jagdish looked up, smiled the kindly smile one might offer a child who'd just said, "Look, Dad! I put on my underpants all by myself." He then looked back at his computer.   Ted's news writing staff. Or what was left of it. They were in a small room a floor above the studio, a window overlooking Midtown. It was dark and the lights of the city were on. Murray loved the view.   Where once, twenty years ago, there were eight or nine of them, now it was this little band of brothers and one sister. And rumor had it that there were redundancies planned. A bank of flat-screens sat above one wall, each showing the major networks, along with CNN and Fox, all in commercial break before their final story. A smaller closed-circuit monitor showed a live feed from the newsroom and Ted's $11 million hair being tended to.   Grace said, "I'm making a change to the story."   "Too late," Murray said, suddenly excited, in part because he loved when Grace did this, her last-minute changes that made a difference only to Grace, and also because she was speaking to him.   "Tell Lou. I'm sending now."   Grace looked up at Murray and Murray picked up the phone. If Grace had said, "Hang from the outside ledge of the window naked," he would have done it.   Murray picked up the phone and dialed. Lou picked up mid-ring. Excerpted from Talk to Me by John Kenney All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.