Think smartphones and social media are threatening privacy? Imagine if you could hear everyone’s thoughts—and they could hear yours.
In her new novel, Hugo and Nebula winner Willis (All Clear, 2010, etc.), a master of door-slamming, hide-behind-the-furniture farce, takes as her theme cellphones—or, more broadly, what therapists refer to as “boundary issues.” The protagonist, Briddey Flannigan, works at a small communications technology company where everyone is always in each other’s business. Briddey has agreed to have an EED—a minor neurosurgical procedure—to enhance her emotional connection with her boyfriend, Trent Worth, a square-jawed up-and-comer who’s working on the company’s next-gen smartphone and hints he’ll propose to her if the operation goes well. The office gossips may be swooning over Trent, but Briddey’s equally intrusive extended family members—which includes Aunt Oona’s chapter of the Daughters of Ireland—have their own strong opinions about brain surgery and suitable husbands. Dodging phone calls and selling white lies suddenly gets a lot harder when Briddey starts hearing voices in her head and realizes that her private thoughts aren’t so private after all. Is it the second sight? True love? Schizophrenia? A breakthrough in smartphone tech? Maybe—but mostly it’s a critique of modern society and an unsurprising metaphor for the perils and joys of human connection.
In other hands this novel could have been mere cliché, but Willis’ exuberant humor and warmhearted, fast-paced plotting transform it into a satisfying, if old-fashioned, romantic comedy.