Goodman (Intuition, 2006, etc.) shows two sisters grappling with romantic, professional and moral quandaries at the height of the dotcom boom.
In the fall of 1999, Emily and Jess meet in Berkeley to celebrate Jess’s 23rd birthday—belatedly, because 28-year-old Emily is ten days away from the IPO of her data-storage company. Flaky philosophy grad student Jess is more interested in the sexy leader of Save the Trees than in buying shares of stock whose price, her sister assures her, “will go through the roof.” Across the continent in Cambridge, Mass., Emily’s boyfriend Jonathan, whose own startup encrypts web transactions, is confident that “we’re all going to be gazillionaires.” George is already rich, a “Microsoft millionaire” who used his fat dividends to launch Yorick’s Used and Rare Books, where Jess works part-time; he uneasily but longingly eyes his young employee, whose idealism challenges his middle-aged cynicism. Emily, though more practical than her sister, is also an idealist, horrified when one of her partners turns a data-monitoring program into an electronic surveillance system. When she makes the mistake of telling Jonathan about it, however, he’s not so scrupulous. Meanwhile, Jess helps George snag an astonishing collection of rare cookbooks, and dotcom stocks soar, then plummet as the bubble bursts in 2001. The formidably skilled and intelligent Goodman juggles multiple points of view to chronicle her characters’ intricate maneuvers for advantage and satisfaction; she even throws a pair of Bialystoker rabbis and some long-lost relations of Jess and Emily into the bustling plot. Frequently laugh-out-loud funny but always fundamentally serious, the novel takes a clear-eyed look at the competitive instinct and the profit motive as they clash with our equally strong need for love and connection. In the wake of 9/11 (whose aftermath is depicted with refreshing astringency), a wedding affirms the presence of joy without denying the reality of loss: “They held each other, although nothing stayed.”
A witty, warm and wise look at the human condition in the digital age.