You Have Been Disconnected by Rida Allen

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.

29 comments

  1. I loved this sentence: “ I kept batting arguments around in my head like a cat with a toy mouse.” Brilliant! I think the story sounds interesting, especially from a counseling perspective, as there are many issues covered in such a short format. Intriguing review!

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  2. This does sound interesting, though I agree about the boundary-crossing. It’s interesting that the book presents that, doesn’t ask the reader to see it as romantic, but ultimately (I’m guessing from your review) does set up a romance between the two characters. That makes Matt seem more realistic as a character – he has good intentions but is making serious missteps, rather than he’s an outright hero or villain.

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    • Yes! You’ve worded my thoughts better than I have: this IS a romance novel overall, but we’re not meant to agree that what Matt is doing is romantic. At one point he makes a romantic gesture that feels a bit pathetic, even though it’s the kind of thing you would see in 1990s romance movies.

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  3. There do seem to be some weird gray-area not respecting of boundaries issues here, but that does happen a lot in real life so I guess it’s realistic? That cover isn’t doing it any favors at all. I am glad that at least she’s not bemoaning her weight and dieting.

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    • Based on the cover alone, I would think this is a middle school book about a teacher. I’m also glad there was no dieting nonsense, though she does challenge Matt on his body preferences, a challenge that he does not take up. Good for him! I dislike the plot point during which a handsome man tells a fat woman she’s beautiful. Instead, Matt demonstrates that a woman’s body is not his first concern, which I like much better.

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  4. Two things. Especially as a young man I didn’t view a woman in any way except through the lens of s*x. That’s just the way young men are wired. It requires a constant effort to bring your mind back to whatever professional or just inconsequential interaction you’re having with a woman. Describing her as “just walking” (from Matt’s POV) would be to deny what was really going on.

    The other is that it disappoints me when women authors describe men’s pushiness/stalking as somehow desirable or excusable.

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    • Heh, you’ve given me very little faith in young men, Bill. I’m hoping at the very least most have the sense to keep their thoughts to themselves unless things are mutual.

      I’m not sure that Allen describes Matt’s stalking behavior as excusable. In fact, he comes off as pathetic in some places, and even questions the legality or intelligence of what he’s doing in other places. It’s not smooth sailing, so I appreciate that the author doesn’t romanticize his actions.

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      • This answers a question I was considering – ie what is the author’s attitude to Matt’s behaviour, and to what degree is it shown to be problematic.

        I greatly enjoyed reading your thought processes about this book Melanie.

        The cover is a weird sort of retro look that doesn’t quite place it anywhere, but then I’m probably not the market.

        Several years ago, I read an Australian chick-lit book “Addition” in which the protagonist has OCD. I thought it had some interesting things to say within its genre framework, but I wonder how I would look at it now, using your lens.

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        • I actually just researched this author a moment ago and realized she started a publishing company to get her own books out there, so the covers are likely done by someone who is not an artist and did not have the backing to pay for copyrighted art/images.

          Folks have asked lots of questions about what the author’s attitude seems to be about Matt and his problematic behaviors, and I’d have to say that I think she *might* say that while his behaviors are not okay, there’s also an element of concern in that Phyllis is harming herself to a degree.

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  5. Huh…this sounds interesting though problematic. So many books and movies do depict men stomping over women’s boundaries as romantic that it’s pretty normalized but the added background of her past trauma seems to make this extra icky. I wouldn’t want anyone showing up uninvited and insisting they slew on my couch!

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    • I almost wondered if Matt was seriously dense and thinking from a male point of view. He doesn’t feel unsafe about sleeping in a strange place, so why would anyone? The more I respond to comments about this post, the more it has me thinking about this book and the way it really does generate a lot of conversation around male vs. female point of view, what is romantic vs. misguided or straight-up illegal. It’s got a lot going for it despite being “just” a romance novel.

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  6. Sounds like a lot of the value of this book lies in the discussion of it – which is interesting and valuable. I’m not sure what I’d think of it but it’s certainly given everyone lots to talk about. A good book club book, right?!

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  7. This book sounds really unique to me, which is perhaps why you are able to overlook some of the icky things, like Matt being unable to understand ‘no means no’. I like how the author has thrown in a bunch of complications instead of making it a straightforward romance, and of course, I love reading about a successful woman in the world of IT!

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