I don’t expect romantic comedies to be stressful, but the first third of Connie Willis’s latest novel was almost unendurable. It was entertaining, and I wanted to know where it was going, but I found almost every single person impossible to like, including the main character. Luckily, it does improve, but wow, it really does walk the line between annoying and enjoyable.
So what’s it about? Briddey Flannigan works at a technology company. The pace is frantic; everyone is connected all the time, and personal and business freely mix. So the whole company is abuzz with excitement, when Briddey’s coworker and boyfriend, Trent, asks her to undergo an EED, a medical procedure that will allow them to become emotionally linked. Briddey’s family, on the other hand, thinks the procedure is a terrible idea and pleads with Briddey not to do it. Of course, Briddey goes through with it, and complications ensue.
The first several chapters of this book focus on Briddey’s always-connected life (all pre-EED). As someone who values quiet and privacy, I found the constant communication impossible to even read about. I think I even felt my blood pressure rising as Briddey juggled texts, phone calls, and impromptu visits from family and colleagues, all demanding instant and complete attention. It’s too much for anyone, and I found myself getting irritated with Briddey herself for not putting a stop to it and giving me, her reader, some blessed relief. (The fact that I could put the book down and walk away only barely occurred to me, which probably says something about the difficulty Briddey would have shutting out the voices.)
The one character who isn’t impossible is C.B. Schwartz, a scientist who works in the basement, where signals are weak and no one wants to visit. He is a blessed oasis in the storm of Briddey’s life, even though she doesn’t want much to do with him. You can probably imagine where this will end up going.
The story is excessively silly, as Willis’s comedies usually are. I’m not always a good reader of comedies, but I enjoyed both To Say Nothing of the Dog and Bellwether, which are just as wacky and a lot less annoying. Crosstalk is a long book that probably should have been shorter, but the pace is quick. I didn’t warm up to many of the characters, although I grew to like Briddey herself, and some information revealed toward the end made me a little more understanding of some of her family. In the end, I didn’t dislike it exactly, but I never quite fell into the joy of it.
The book concerns itself with questions of individuality and privacy and our always-connected world, but I don’t think it has much that’s serious or new to say about it. Connection can be intoxicating in positive and negative ways, and it’s easy to end up with too much of a good thing. But complete privacy has downsides, too. Still, I’d take it over the alternative.