As you may remember, Crosstalk
was announced, my general impression was that it was basically going to be a Bellwether
rewrite except instead of spending the book shouting at clouds about fads, Connie Willis was going to spend the book shouting at clouds about modern technology.
As it happens, I was both very right and very wrong. While both Bellwether
feature a romance between the only two people who are somehow immune to The Shallowness of Modern Existence set against a cast of thousands of sheeple obsessed with the latest gossip/fad, it turns out Bellwether
remains a much better book than Crosstalk
stars Briddey Flanagan, who works at a cell phone company. What does Briddey do at the cell phone company? I have NO IDEA, because we never see her doing any part of her actual job, or in fact doing anything at the office except flee from gossipy coworkers who want to talk about her office romance with [obviously evil] dreamy executive Trent, because everyone in Briddey's office -- and, indeed, perhaps everyone in this book -- walked out of a 1960's Doris Day film.
Briddey has no friends, but she does have several family members, each of whom has two character traits:
Briddey's Aunt Oona is very, very Irish
Briddey's sister Mary Clare is a helicopter parent to her nine-year-old niece, Maeve
Briddey's other sister Kathleen has bad taste in boyfriends
You may have noticed this is only a single character trait per person. The other character trait, which they all share, is that they have no boundaries and all seem very invested in and concerned about Briddey, who literally never has a conversation with any of these people in which she is not attempting to hide from them, flee from them, or get them to stop talking to her, usually by lying to them profusely.
You might think the moral of the story would be that Briddey and her family need to learn to set some boundaries, communicate honestly, and break the cycle of increasingly complex lies! About this, you would be very, very wrong.
The plot kicks off -- after several chapters illustrating how Briddey's cell phone is a terrible trial to her because her family keeps trying to CALL her on it or TEXT her on it, GOD, why will nobody leave her ALONE, clearly the problem is the technology and not, you know, the fact that Briddey doesn't know how to set boundaries and instead is engaged in a constant web of deceit and lies with everyone she knows and theoretically loves! -- when Briddey and her boyfriend [obviously evil] Dreamy Executive Trent decide to get the latest in relationship goals, a procedure that allows them to sense each other's emotions.
RANDOM FICTIONAL OFFICEWORKER: Brad and Angelina just had one of those procedures!
(CONNIE WILLIS: Look at my cool modern references! Just let anybody say that my books are out of date now --
BRAD AND ANGELINA: We're breaking up literally two weeks before this book is published.
CONNIE WILLIS: God fucking damn it!
Alas, the nonsense science of the procedure somehow goes nonsense science wrong, and instead of sensing her boyfriend's emotions, she gains an instant telepathic connection with C.B., the genius curmudgeon with messy hair and poor hygiene who has a mad scientist workshop in the company basement and thinks communication is awful.
BRIDDEY: Oh man, the procedure's gone wrong and a dude I don't much like can now read my mind, I should tell someone --
C.B.: YOU CANNOT TELL ANYONE ABOUT THIS, EVER. Instead, how about you concoct a series of increasingly-elaborate lies to tell everyone you know and love!
BRIDDEY: Um OK but I would very much like to tell a DOCTOR and figure out a way to reverse this because I feel KIND OF LIKE MY PRIVACY IS BEING INVADED HERE, please leave me alone and don't talk to me --
C.B.: You definitely cannot tell a medical professional about this! Everyone outside of the two of us needs to think that everything is fine!
BRIDDEY: OK, I won't tell anyone, but let me repeat once more: please leave me alone and don't talk to me or listen to my thoughts!
C.B.: I've been listening to your thoughts and I can tell you're in trouble, I'm here to pick you up from the hospital and drive you home! Want to tell me your address? LOL though I mean I already know it, you can have no secrets from me!
Yeah, this is kind of nightmare territory. For the next several chapters, Briddey freaks out while C.B. consistently refuses to stop invading her mental privacy, warns her that she can under no circumstances tell anybody else the truth about anything in her life or the fact that she is in distress, literally feeds her lies to tell to her family and boyfriend, shows up frequently to rescue her despite being explicitly asked not to do so, and, to add insult to injury, constantly mansplains random facts to her about telepathy.
C.B., of course, is the romantic hero and the book goes on to justify everything he does in every respect. The more the book went on, the more I missed Bennett from Bellwether.
He had no particular personality that I can recall except being mysteriously immune to fads, but at least he seemed like a pleasant human being and I expect he understood the general meaning of the word 'no.' ( Spoilers under the cut )