Science fiction icon Connie Willis brilliantly mixes a speculative plot, the wit of Nora Ephron, and the comedic flair of P. G. Wodehouse in Crosstalk a genre-bending novel that pushes social media, smartphone technology, and twenty-four-hour availability to hilarious and chilling extremes as one young woman abruptly finds herself with way more connectivity than she ever desired.
In the not-too-distant future, a simple outpatient procedure to increase empathy between romantic partners has become all the rage. And Briddey Flannigan is delighted when her boyfriend, Trent, suggests undergoing the operation prior to a marriage proposal to enjoy better emotional connection and a perfect relationship with complete communication and understanding. But things don’t quite work out as planned, and Briddey finds herself connected to someone else entirely in a way far beyond what she signed up for.
It is almost more than she can handle especially when the stress of managing her all-too-eager-to-communicate-at-all-times family is already burdening her brain. But that’s only the beginning. As things go from bad to worse, she begins to see the dark side of too much information, and to realize that love and communication are far more complicated than she ever imagined.
Crosstalk, the latest novel by seven-time Nebula winner and eleven-time Hugo winner Connie Willis, is a romantic comedy/near future science fiction novel focused on communication and telepathy. It’s also a novel I’ve been struggling to review since my feelings about it are…complicated.
On the one hand, I absolutely loved reading it and quite literally had difficulty putting it down even though I read it during a time when I usually struggle to focus on reading. On the other hand, there’s a part of me that’s giving that other part the side-eye and wondering how due to its many problems. The “It was so much fun!” side was winning while I was reading it and shortly after I finished it, but now that more time has passed, the “But…it had issues!” side is carrying more weight than it did.
Crosstalk kept me reading because of the dialogue and chemistry between some of the characters—and because I wanted to see how they got out of the predicaments they ended up in! Almost all the characters are lying to the others and hiding secrets, and much of it is revolves around Briddey trying to keep the truth about what happened after her operation (an EED) from her boyfriend Trent and family (the latter of whom she didn’t even want to know that she had the EED in the first place since they tried to talk her out of it). The only person she really talks to about what’s happening is her coworker C. B., a tech geek who mainly keeps to himself and hides in the company basement, and he has secrets of his own.
Briddey’s conversations with C. B. and her precocious niece Maeve were often delightful, but the characterization is actually quite poor. Most of the characters have one primary trait that makes them rather one note—the helicopter mom, the dating-obsessed sister, the eccentric aunt, and so forth—and Briddey herself has the least personality of all. Until closer to the end, she mainly runs around reacting to situations and I didn’t get a very firm idea of her character at all other than that she was kindhearted.
It especially bothered me that I was repeatedly told that Briddey was smart but rarely shown that she was smart. She kept completely missing the obvious (or being very slow to figure out the obvious). In some cases, this could have been attributed to other factors such as still being affected by anesthesia or being bombarded with so much at once that she didn’t have time to think straight, but when it kept happening over and over again she just came across as not at all bright. I don’t think this was supposed to be the case—I believe Briddey was actually supposed to be as intelligent as the other characters seemed to think she was—but it actually started to seem condescending when C. B. would comment on how of course she was so smart to figure that out because it would have been hard for her not to put two and two together.
Like the characters, the speculative aspects of the novel seemed underdeveloped. The impact of EEDs on society was glossed over, and the problems with telepathy were standard and predictable. These aspects of the book were mainly relevant as vehicles for creating amusing situations, and logic and characterization came second to getting Briddey into deep water.
I’m completely torn about Crosstalk and had the most difficult time putting together some thoughts on it for that reason. Since I primarily read fiction for entertainment, I don’t want to discount the fact that I did have a wonderful time reading it and can even see myself rereading it when I want a diverting book, but I also think that there are many improvements that could have made it a much stronger novel.
My Rating: 6/10 – A compromise between the “It was fun side!” (which would be much higher) and the “It had issues!” side (which would be much lower)
Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.
Read an Excerpt (Click the link below the cover image)