“In the not-too-distant future, a simple outpatient procedure to increase empathy between romantic partners has become all the rage.” –From the description.
Briddey and her boyfriend of six weeks, Trent, work for a small but competitive mobile phone company that aims to supersede Apple in the business of communication. So when Trent asks Briddey to get an “EED” with him, a brain surgery that allows romantic partners to feel each other’s emotions and, supposedly, to communicate better through emotional bonding, they become the talk of the office. That’s a problem for Briddey, who desperately wants to keep the news from her nosey Irish family. But Trent’s explanation easily melts her into agreement: he wants her to feel how much he loves her when he proposes. So Briddey happily sneaks to her surgery, dodging pesky family and coworkers alike.
But once the surgery is done, she finds that something has gone terribly, terribly wrong. She hasn’t emotionally bonded to Trent…
This book is so funny. It’s like Jane Austen + telepathic Twitter. Romantic comedy at its modern greatest. I knew from the beginning that I was going to enjoy the book, but I wasn’t sure how much until around 34%-35%.
We spend the first 30+% with Briddey the vapid executive, as she runs around her office getting lots of gifts from an almost-absentee boyfriend and trying to avoid all the nosy people in her workplace and family long enough to actually get the surgery. The absurdist flavor of the humor (highlighted in conversations about nothing, endless interruptions of Briddey’s agenda and our heroine’s almost blind determination to have the EDD operation despite warnings about unintended consequences) runs consistently throughout the book, but it’s especially present in the beginning, before Briddey experiences any character growth.
The reader’s patience is rewarded around 34-35%, when Briddey starts seeing herself from the perspective of others’ private thoughts. That moment, with its inherent character growth, hooked me on this book. Suddenly, the characters filled out and I really wanted to know how Briddey was going to handle the extrasensory data following her EED.
I love how Connie Willis develops the theories of telepathy—and she manages it in humorous data dumps from one particular character. (This character is a huge part of why I loved the book. That’s as much as I can say without spoilers!) Readers can enjoy this element whether they regularly read in the speculative genre or not; the learning curve, while interesting, is minimal.
I also love the chattiness of the telepathy.
Dawn patrol to Night Fighter, come in, Night Fighter.”
At this moment, the heroine is still learning that her private thoughts are no longer private:
She opened the door. He was leaning against the doorjamb, wearing a hoodie and a pair of baggy pants, his hair a tangled mess.
‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘You look nice, too.'”
Willis takes every opportunity to spin a joke with the mind chatter, but it’s not all lighthearted. When things go wrong, in the mental sphere, Briddey has to develop coping mechanisms, and Willis makes the whole experience very real for the reader using strong, concrete details and imagery. As it turns out, telepathy can seriously mess with your psyche. Willis hones in on the sentiment that no, seriously, you don’t want to know what everyone thinks about you.
It’s a good thing I was already listening to and loving another book when I finished reading Crosstalk because otherwise I’d be in a major book hangover right now. I completely loved Crosstalk.
The only thing I would change is the length of the book. It’s really long for a modern romantic comedy, even if we give Willis extra pages to explore the speculative element. The author includes lots of unnecessary (not irrelevant, but just repetitive) details and conversations. At the same time, these absurdist touches are clearly intentional and part of the charm. It was fun—more than fun—to get so completely caught up in the world and the romance.
And now that I’m finished, I wish I had time to go back and reread the whole thing. I already went back and reread my favorite bits, an indulgence I rarely make time for, these days.
A light and absorbing—but not insubstantial—exploration of communication and love in the modern world. Full marks, baby. I’m definitely buying a hard copy of Crosstalk, next book haul. I’ve already recommended it to three people at work.
Readers who don’t mind a longer romantic comedy. Teens will love this, if they get past the first 30%. There’s no sex and minimal swearing. I’m serious, it’s adorable, give it to young adult readers who enjoy contemporary romance.
Huge thanks to Connie Willis, Del Rey and Netgalley for the free review copy!