For each technological advance designed to bring us closer, there seem to evolve further hindrances to face-to-face communication. In the story collection There’s an App for That, author Ed Toolis prods at this and other issues of the day. His stories—each examining the ways technology intersects with modern life—are full of provocative ideas.
In “The Morning Commute,” for example, a woman begs for basic directions on the subway, only to be rebuffed by people who are too busy elsewhere to be of service here (one woman is absorbed in teaching school in Africa through her iPad). In “The Blessed Event,” a woman who longs to be a mother is waylaid in a bookstore by mothers bent on advice-bombing her with books and apps about birth and child-rearing, so much so that she ends up opting for a puppy instead. “Final Arrangements” finds a bereaved mother confronted with what to do about her daughter’s online legacy, which includes too much information and then some.
Toolis writes with humor and bite, and many of his ideas are terrific, but the execution needs fine-tuning. Words are misused (“mine” for “mind,” “tact” for “tack,” “balled” instead of “bawled” and the unusual “mugged-shot”), and far too much dialogue is described as “sing-songed.” There are 40 stories here, but many are just a premise and very little else. One story that’s set in a family therapy session turns juicy when the teenage daughter’s virtual family from an online game demands inclusion — a great premise, but the story ends abruptly with no resolution. A collection of fewer pieces written with more detail would offer readers more to think about and discuss.
Despite those concerns, There’s an App for That is smart and timely, and readers who like fiction that asks complex questions without taking itself too seriously will enjoy this collection.