I’m not a big fan of Connie Willis; I think her novels are over-written and like many successful writers in the modern era, she could use a good editor. Despite its length, though, I liked reading Crosstalk.
Set in a not-very-distant future, Crosstalk is the story of a woman named Briddey who is from a close family and works at a company called Commspan with a peculiar man called C.B. and her boss Trent, who she is dating.
Briddey’s family irritated me at the beginning, always calling and interfering. I couldn’t understand why she let them intrude on her the way they do. They have opinions on what Briddey does during every moment of her day. They first big decision they weigh in on is the “EED” Briddey and Trent are planning. We don’t know what an “EED” is at first, but everyone seems to think it’s very romantic and they mention that the doctor who will perform it “did Brad and Angelina’s” and “he did Caitlyn Jenner’s….And Kim Kardashian’s.” (Sadly, this 2016 novel is already out of date in its listing of couples in the future.) We later find out that an “EED” is a “neurological enhancement” which “increases your ability to connect emotionally with your partner” and that it requires surgery.
C.B.–who works in the basement of Commspan, a place with no cellphone coverage, even for their own special “voice-texting function” which “was designed specifically for areas with poor reception”–tries to talk Briddey out of the EED. He tells her that “Commspan promises…more communication. But that isn’t what people want. They’ve got way too much already—laptops, smartphones, tablets, social media. They’ve got connectivity coming out their ears.” C.B. tells her about apps he is working on for less connectivity, since “you used to be able to say you couldn’t get to the phone in time or didn’t get their message…but thanks to advances in communications technology, those excuses won’t work anymore.” But Briddey doesn’t really listen to anything he says, any more than she listens to her sister Mary Clare, who weighs in on the proposed EED by commenting “I just don’t understand the attraction to a man who insists on brain surgery as some kind of prenuptial.”
Immediately after her surgery, Briddey finds that although she can’t sense Trent’s feelings, she can hear the thoughts of C.B., who turns out to have been able to hear other peoples’ thoughts since puberty. He thinks at her “I told you it could have unintended consequences” and then proceeds to pick her up from the hospital and comfort her. Eventually he teaches her how to deal with the increasingly disconcerting number of thoughts she can hear from other people.
Briddey isn’t the brightest bulb on the porch so the middle part of the novel is very long, as she figures out things like why she shouldn’t go out in public places before she’s learned to control her mind-reading and why Trent actually wanted her to get the EED in the first place (minor spoiler: it’s not because he’s in love). C.B. is endlessly patient with her as she figures it all out (my theory about this is that she’s the most empty-headed female he’s ever met, and he likes the quiet).
There’s some minor skirmishing at the end, involving Trent’s determination to control the new market in mind-reading communications and the answering determination of C.B. and Briddey’s family—who all turn out to be mind-readers—to stop him. It’s an enjoyable 498-page book, and would have been even better told at less length.