Crosstalk by Connie Willis
(Publisher Advance Copy)
Briddie Flannigan works for a mobile phone company working on a big new release to rival Apple’s latest offering. Simultaneously, her boyfriend Trent pops a very millennial question, asking her to join him in undertaking a neurological procedure that will bring them closer by allowing them to directly feel one another’s emotions. When things go slightly awry with the procedure, Briddie must reevaluate many aspects of both her life and modern life in general, guided by an unlikely support team: scruffy and quirky anti hero C.B. Schwartz, a colleague of hers at the mobile phone company; and her precocious 9-year old niece Maeve.
One thing that has always simultaneously delighted and perplexed me about Connie Willis is her ability to have her finger on the social pulse, while often discounting or neglecting crucial technological developments. The absence of a portable phone system in Willis’s 2050 Oxford in Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog is infuriating at times, but I also recognise that the grim chaos and confusion of Doomsday Book, and the extreme farce of To Say Nothing of the Dog couldn’t have happened without the plot device that the lack of mobile telephony enables. Willis makes up for this technological oversight in Crosstalk by embracing the mobile phone trope, and ramping up connectivity to an unbearable level. I don’t want to provide too many spoilers, but it is very fair to say that this is definitely a novel about connection fatigue.
And in the modern world, what better connection is there than love? I have always adored Willis’s romantic subplots, as she has intelligent, self-possessed heroines and a gorgeous line of attractive anti-heroes. Her romantic heroes are never alpha males, are often slightly bumbling and scruffy or socially inept, but reveal themselves to be sensitive, intelligent and have the kind of hidden depths and social intelligence you only encounter upon getting to know someone a little better. Crosstalk explores not only connection fatigue, but also romance fatigue in general. In many ways, this is a romance novel for readers who are sick of or suspicious of romance.