Nicola Griffith's novelette "It Takes Two," ... is one of my very favorite stories from 2009. It also doesn't really work.
After several pages of Cody and Cookie (real name Susanna) simultaneously marveling and rejecting their undeniable chemical response to one another in slightly clichéd terms ("'Do you suppose this is l—' She couldn't say it. She didn't believe it."), Cody returns to San Francisco and is accosted by her friend Richard, and for the next ten pages or so "It Takes Two" mainly consists of Richard explaining the story's McGuffin and Cody reacting with varying degrees of alarm, disbelief, and horror to the revelation that she hired Richard to prime both herself and Susanna with each other's sexual and romantic preferences and fantasies, essentially manufacturing love at first sight. Even leaving aside just how convoluted and tenuous a method this is of securing a deal (are there really executives, even Atlanta good ol' boys, who will sign a deal with someone because "I like the way you handle yourself . . . no boasting, no big words, you just sit quiet then seize the opportunity"?) the structure of the story is off: story, story, story, exposition, exposition, exposition, dilemma—as Cody has to decide whether to take what Griffith rather cleverly dubs "RU486 for the brain" and destroy her artificial feelings for Susanna, or embrace them.
Why then, do I still think that "It Takes Two" is a brilliant story? Because it is just so damnably creepy. We all know, even if we don't like to be reminded of it, that even the loftiest of emotions are chemical fluctuations in our brains, and that those chemicals can and are being manipulated on various levels and with various degrees of finesse. What makes "It Takes Two" disturbing is not so much that it adds love to the list of reactions that can be externally, medically controlled, but that it takes the obvious next step of assuming that once that ability is achieved it will be commodified, that the next step in prostitution will be whores who really do mean it when they say "you're special, I wouldn't do this with anyone but you" (in that sense "It Takes Two" covers much of the same ground as Joss Whedon's recently cancelled Dollhouse). "It Takes Two" doesn't shy away from the fact that Susanna has sold herself in the most profound way possible, and that Cody has bought her, but at the same time it encourages us to root for a romantic ending. The resulting tension between romance and revulsion is what makes the story, what makes it possible to ignore the problems in its premise and structure, and what makes its ending simultaneously satisfying and horrifying.