William Eisner’s (The Sevigne Letters, 1994) tale of corporate intrigue has an interesting start: Laid-off high-tech engineer George Breal spends half a year coping with unemployment and finally secures an interview with Dr. John Lowell, president of the Cambridge, Mass., company Electronic Technologies.
Their talk is an apparent disaster, with Lowell living up to his reputation for being eccentric, obsessive and short-tempered—and Breal nonetheless gets the job. The setup hints at a high-tech version of The Devil Wears Prada, but the remainder is quite different. No conflict ever develops between the two; Breal in fact becomes a relatively minor character. And the book hinges largely on Lowell’s attempts to maximize his company’s profits and save it from a hostile German takeover. A more promising subplot concerns the friction between Lowell’s mistress, Edna, and his estranged daughter Catherine, who is revealed to have acted in pornographic movies. But readers are likely to lose patience with the lengthy boardroom scenes, which give more background on the development of an integrated circuit than most will ever need to know. And not everyone will relate to Lowell when he wins battles with his two great adversaries, labor unions and the press, just in time for a vacation in Paris. Hints are dropped throughout that Lowell’s health may be failing, but he winds up fully vindicated both as a business visionary and a family man.
Because Eisner is himself a former engineering executive who ran a Boston company similar to Electronic Technologies, it’s perhaps too easy to assume that this book is partly a memoir. But in either case, it never quite crosses the line that divides a compelling novel from a vanity project.