Matt Collins works for a IT company and is part of a team that codes. Whenever they can’t solve a problem, the boss hires Phil Fink, an independent coder, to find the bugs and get it returned quickly. No one can beat Phil, and Matt has come to rely on the coding whiz to save his team’s rear many times. Now, Matt wants to write his own code and get a promotion, but he can’t do it without Phil. The problem is, they’ve never met face to face and Matt wants to sit down together and get things moving.
Sounds like a book blogger dilemma to me! Many of us have shared our histories and grief, our oddities and families. Can you know person after five years of virtual friendship? You can. But what Matt doesn’t know is that Phil is short for Phyllis, who knows IT is a man’s world and doesn’t want to be judged based on her gender. She sits in an apartment building that was designed for a few residents, each on their own floors, in an abandoned warehouse where she can see people come and go with her high tech cameras. Everyone must be buzzed in and out. The elevator won’t go up or down without a resident controlling the thing. But why did Phyllis add all the extra tech stuff?
Years ago she was the victim of a home burglary, and while she was physically harmed, she was not raped. Unfortunately, the same attacker did sexually assault another home owner, so Phyllis’s PTSD stems from survivor’s guilt and realization of her proximity to danger.
You Have Been Disconnected by Rida Allen did not go like I thought it would based on that foofy-cute cover. I kept batting arguments around in my head like a cat with a toy mouse. Once Matt arrives — after “Phil” told he repeatedly not to come — and learns his coding “dude” is a woman, he’s more forceful than I find acceptable. He wants to fall asleep on her couch at night instead of return to his hotel. He’s convinced that if he moves in for a weekend, they can get things done faster. When Phyllis seems afraid, he pushes her to go outside and have a good time. The whole while she’s emphatically saying, “NO.” No means mean, right? Like, no means no means no, end of story.
But Matt also sees that Phyllis’s trauma is what scares her, and he thinks he’s helping. My brain jumped in with, “Yeah, but if she wants help, he’s not her therapist.” This is true, but Phyllis seems too afraid to seek a professional specializing in PTSD. In fact, she hasn’t even seen her family, whom she loves, in years because she doesn’t leave. So, would she ever exit the building without someone standing up to her fear? Honestly, I don’t know in the end what I think, especially when Matt wants in and refuses to leave, so he breaks into the garage. Is this romantic? I don’t think it’s meant to be, so we’re crossing some sort of friend/romance partner/coworker boundaries. But let me ask you: when was the last time you read a romance novel that asked you to see beyond black and white to consider how real life presents itself?
The title of the novella (it’s 192 pages) comes from Matt’s late-night sexy online sessions with someone with the username IrishCoughE. This name does not age well in the era of COVID, but whatever. Any reader can guess IrishCoughE is Phyllis, who is trying out dirty talk and sexual fantasies in a safe space (hooray, internet!) while gauging what body type Matt likes. She asks him what he prefers after he asks what she looks like, but he’s not playing along. Phyllis wants confirmation that Matt is into thin women, a direct contrast to her bigger body. If anything, Matt does read as a genuine man who finds pandering boring and overt sexual energy intimidating. There’s a great scene in which his coworker’s wife sets him up with a hot date who won’t stop rubbing Matt’s arms and saying things in a sultry way that makes her come off like a weirdo.
Would You’ve Been Disconnected meet my criteria for a book with a fat leading lady who doesn’t diet or date her way to happiness. This is another gray area! When Phyllis’s body is described, it’s from Matt’s perspective, so she’s always sashaying, and oh gawd, that ass. Those sorts of things. When I think about me walking around in professional clothing, I wouldn’t say I have a slinky walk or seductive curves. Can’t a fat lady just . . . walk? On the other hand, a fat woman who looks sexy to a man is cool, too. I suppose my hesitation is when I ask at what point can a person be a person without outsides gauging his or her sexiness? Sexiness now feels so distant from the act of sex, and I ask myself why. I thought they were partners. Maybe not. Matt does give Phyllis loads of compliments about her work ethic and skills and the apartment she designed, too. Maybe this is a balanced book and I’m too quick to say, “ah ha!” when it isn’t warranted.
Overall, I did enjoy You Have Been Disconnected. Allen looks at trauma, gender in the workplace, online and in-person sexual activities, and gave me lots to ponder.