When Bantam first published my novel Dialogues in hardcover in 2005, it was described as a “reinvention of the psychological thriller.” Told mostly in dialogue, I wrote Dialogues as a compelling drama about a young animal shelter worker named Tory Troy who one day murders her six co-workers in the animal shelter gas chamber used to euthanize sick and unwanted animals.
Tory took a job at the animal shelter to help unwanted animals find good homes. She ended up being trained for, and working as an animal euthanasia technician. One day, after the deadly gas had done its job, she opens the chamber door and sees … a kitten who didn’t die. This begins a journey for Tory that ultimately results in a decision she alone can make: whether to live or die.
In addition to writing, I am also a Practitioner in Residence and Professor of English at the University of New Haven in Connecticut. A few years after its initial publication, I began assigning Dialogues to my English Composition and Literature students as a novel to read for the semester. I also gave them Dialogues assignments, some culled from the “Reader’s Guide to Dialogues,” written by Bantam for reading groups when the book was first published. The most important Dialogues-related assignment was a 1,000-word analytical essay in which the students had to analyze the symbolism, foreshadowing, word choice, style, tone, and all the other literary elements of the novel they had studied during the semester.
The response from my students to reading, studying, and writing about Dialogues has been consistently and overwhelmingly positive. I realized that Dialogues is an eminently teachable novel, and that it can be appreciated on several levels. It is a captivating thriller with a page-turner appeal and a stunning twist ending. Plus it can be analyzed and deconstructed on a literary level.
• The protagonist, Tory Troy, is arrested and assigned a court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Baraku Bexley, who is given the task of determining is she’s fit to stand trial. All the “dialogues” between Tory and Dr. Bexley take place in a stark room of a psychiatric hospital. The hospital represents the prison of Tory’s mind, and the dialogues between her and Dr. Bexley are, in essence (and which we realize at the end of the novel), Tory talking to herself.
• A jury is impaneled, and this is a symbol for Tory’s self-judgment; her ultimate attempt at redemption for working at a job as a euthanasia technician.
• Some of Tory’s college writings are included in the novel. One novella in particular, The Baby’s Room, foreshadows the conclusion of the novel, and it has been consistently fascinating to me to see how many students recognize the fact that the novella is a replication “in miniature” of the complete Dialogues novel.
Students greatly enjoy reading Dialogues — it is, after all, a contemporary thriller — and because the novel is so layered with subtext and literary elements suitable for student interpretation, when the book is eventually discussed in class, students respond eagerly to learning its secrets and talking about what things meant, what people said, and how the book ends.
Dialogues is an excellent choice for adoption for college and high school English Composition and Literature courses. As part of the support for the book, I will provide to teachers who adopt the novel a detailed outline of the Dialogues lecture I personally deliver to my students every semester.