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In August 1965, Andy Warhol popped two Desoxyn and set out with his Philips tape recorder to capture a day in the life of Factory superstar Ondine. (The two had met a few years earlier, at an orgy, when the young actor, irritated that Warhol wasn’t “involved” enough, arranged for him to be thrown out of the proceedings.) Ondine was hard to keep up with: Warhol made it through only twelve hours of clubs, cabs, and parties before giving up and going home. They didn’t get around to taping another twelve hours until 1967, and the following year a group of women — Gerard Malanga’s secretary, Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker, and some high-school girls — completed the transcription. It was a 600-page mess of typos, and, according to his biographer Victor Bockris, Warhol loved it so much that he read it six times. A, a Novel was published without correction. It testified to two realities: Ondine’s life and the erratum-ridden reproduction of it.

A few months before Warhol first hit the record button, Linda Rosenkrantz had already begun to write by mechanical proxy. TALK (New York Review Books, $14.95) is the novel she sifted from a summer vacation in East Hampton. Unlike Warhol, she believed in editing: she pared down around twenty-five voices to a cast of three and assembled their best lines, scrubbed of “ums” and “uhs,” into something resembling a narrative arc. Rosenkrantz’s subsequent career included a memoir, a book about Hollywood, a history of the telegraph, and a syndicated column. (She also cofounded nameberry.com, a website whose mission is “to help you find the baby name you’ll love for a lifetime.”) But she never published anything like Talk again.

East Hampton, New York © Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

East Hampton, New York © Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

Talk is a documentary as well as a performance — all the characters knew that they were being taped. There’s Marsha (the name Rosenkrantz gives herself), a would-be writer with “a serious job” who records and transcribes the conversations; Emily, an acting student and blackout drunk; and Vincent, a gay painter and the love of Marsha’s life. All are about thirty years old. Key plot points include the preparation and consumption of salads, a fight between Vinnie and Marsha, and that one time somebody someone slept with walks by without saying hi. (Emily also goes to rehab, briefly, an event treated more or less on par with the salads.) Favored topics of conversation include feelings, LSD, parties, therapy, books, food, fathers, art, and sex. “It all comes down to the same old problem,” Marsha sighs, “being a woman alone.” A good man is so hard to find! There isn’t anyone on the beach whom they haven’t already met. Even Marsha’s psychoanalyst, also summering in the Hamptons, admits as much.

Billed paradoxically as “a novel in transcript form,” the faux-naïf experiment of Talk is at once audacious and lazy, much like its characters. Reality-fetishizing contemporary fiction self-consciously leverages the history of the novel, but Talk wholly forgoes description, interior monologue, and free indirect discourse. Its gambit has more to do with conceptual art, and with group psychology, than with fiction. Even its interest in language is only incidental — the pleasure of hearing oneself speak, and spoken of. Our trio relishes a sweat-lodge intimacy built on popping one another’s psychic zits. At the end of the summer, Emily wants to know whether she is closer to Marsha than Vinnie is. Marsha punts, then swerves. “But in the end, do I really give a shit about either of you?” she asks. “Do I give a shit about anything? I don’t think I do.” Emily doesn’t take it personally. She knows how to play therapist. “I think it’s very healthy that you’re worried about this,” she says.

The girls like games, especially name games. In one, they have to guess the identity of a person they know:

emily: Here’s a good question for you to ask — would this person take tranquilizers or pep-ups?

marsha: No, that’s not allowed — you have to ask what kind of tranquilizer he would be. What kind?

emily: Bufferin.

marsha: If this person were an object like to make love on, what would it be?

emily: Very good question — okay, gynecologist’s table.

marsha: I hate this person.

In another game, they choose, rapid-fire, whom they would rather sleep with: Jack Ruby or Lee Oswald? Hoagy Carmichael or Stokely Carmichael? Jonas Mekas or Gregory Markopoulos? Jules or Jim? “The first night is the only time I do care about them,” Marsha says of her conquests, “because it’s a new name on my list.”

Marsha starts worrying on the drive back to the city. All summer long she woke up at seven to “write a book,” but what did she miss while she was typing? What did she really do? “I’m beginning to think that everything in my life happens offstage, it’s all reverberations and echoes and filters, and that’s exactly what my book is too,” she frets. It’s true, but so is what Vinnie says:

I think all great art comes from people’s inabilities to do what they want to do. . . . You’re making something new and valid out of your own defect, which is what all great art does. Do you think the Beatles knew how to drive a car?

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