This is a recent release, and if you’re like me and pre-ordered the book a million months ago, the last thing you want is for someone to give away the plot (!!!), so I’ll keep my comments general.
Willis consistently creates characters it’s easy to like. She’s particularly good at setting up love triangles in which a smart, beautiful woman is trying to get closer to a charming, perfect, preoccupied Guy A, only to discover through the execution of the plot that it’s the smart, sweet, slightly rumpled Guy B she wants. It’s about moving from love-out-there to partnership; it’s about a woman (anyone, really) turning away from being dazzled by “perfection” to recognizing true worth is a good heart inside a less flashy exterior, which is partly about romance, but also about what we expect of ourselves, and being kind to the less-than-perfect aspects of ourselves. That never gets old for me.
I think, collectively, of Willis’ work as an indictment of superficiality. She has a set of stock characters she shows as silly: people who gossip, helicopter parents, women who date a string of wrong men without knowing why, the Mr. Perfects. To her credit, she often finds a way to add a twist – so in “Bellweather,” the insufferable Flip turns out to be a key to the puzzle. But essentially Willis uses them as obstacles, delays, and for easy comic effect, which is fine, of course. I do think it loses on compassion, because people (or parts of ourselves) driven by the Urgent rather than the Important are fearful and in pain under the surface – so I can moderately enjoy them, but I think her style of comedy works best in her short stories and in her novel-length books I prefer her at her more serious: Passage, Lincoln’s Dreams, Blackout, etc. I love her comedy; I think she is at her best when she grapples with loss and specifically death.
There’s one line – not a spoiler – in Crosstalk that sums up Willis’ style of writing for me:
Every thought was connected to every other in a tangled maze of memories and cognitive links and associations...
because I don’t think Willis writes “plot-driven” books, nor are they really “character-driven”…. I think they’re “theme-driven.” She’ll take an idea, like in this case communication, and riff on it – names, images, setting, elements of the plot – in this kind of ever expanding, looping back in on itself and shooting off in new directions style – and by the end you’ve found out a lot of really fascinating tangentially related things and have a sense of having thought more deeply about something important. She often builds these around a question, or a series of related questions, that form the “quest for knowledge” plot that hook me and drive me to keep reading page after page. I ADORE her books. She is the writer who has made me want to write.