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December 5, 2016

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it “did Brad and Angelina’s” and “he did Caitlyn Jenner’s….And Kim Kardashian’s.” (Sadly, this 2016 novel is already out of date in its listing of couples in the future.)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.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Carrie Dunsmore permalink
    December 5, 2016 8:45 am

    I like Willis ok – her ideas are definitely better than her writing. Every novel seems to involve people running around crazily at the end as if she doesn’t trust her plots to work out on their own!!

    • December 5, 2016 8:48 am

      It is a great idea–and something M.T. Anderson didn’t do already in Feed! And you’re right–at the end, people are definitely running around crazily.

  2. December 5, 2016 12:28 pm

    I do like Willis though I agree she can get rather long-winded! Is this her new one?

    • December 5, 2016 12:33 pm

      Yes, it’s on the “new” shelf in the SF section now, although I think it came out in the UK earlier.

      • December 5, 2016 12:35 pm

        You know we are always a little behind in the States 🙂

  3. aartichapati permalink
    December 5, 2016 2:30 pm

    I find Willis very hit-or-miss. I 100% agree about the editing! For example, I found those books set in WWII to be SO REPETITIVE. But I loved To Say Nothing of the Dog, which I found so light and fun.

    • December 5, 2016 3:51 pm

      Since it sounds like we agree, I’ll make To Say Nothing of the Dog my next one by Willis. Thanks!

      • December 6, 2016 9:06 pm

        I liked Doomsday Book, which is also by her. I didn’t like any of the rest of them (and I read a lot of them).

  4. December 5, 2016 6:26 pm

    I am curious about this one. I haven’t loved Willis in the past, but I do like her.

    • December 5, 2016 10:01 pm

      As Carrie said (above), she does have good ideas. There are some quirky ones too, like her theory that Irish people have a pre-disposition to being able to read minds.

  5. December 5, 2016 8:53 pm

    I VERY much agree with the proposition that Connie Willis could use a good editor. Even when I’ve enjoyed her books (which has been far from always), I’ve wished that she had someone around who could shorten her books substantially. They are too long.

    • December 5, 2016 10:00 pm

      I think Briddey would have seemed less dim-witted to me if the middle section had been edited so the pace was faster. She was still sympathetic, though, and as I said, I did enjoy reading this one.

  6. Jenny permalink
    December 19, 2016 8:50 pm

    I am a Connie-Willis-can-do-no-wrong-er — I like reading her at almost any length — and I still think Blackout and All Clear were almost unreadably too long. So I do agree. I’m looking forward to this one as a gift to myself sometime in the spring.

    • December 20, 2016 9:53 am

      I’ll look forward to hearing what you think about the length of this new one.

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