Swift, immensely amusing first novel, a Brief Encounter set in Internet chat rooms, that starts marvelously, has a slight dip, then holds you to the bitter end.
Allan’s imaginings sound right on the nose for sexual frankness and Interchat vulgarity in 1999. His chat room is Literoticus.com and the members are, among others, Lisa33 (a mom in Georgia), Tagaabbcc, Moonbeam, Liquidjoy, Steve, Sandydee, Satish11, Humbert, LolaB, and MySweetPussyWantsU. This is largely a mutual masturbation society whose “masked” members keep getting out of hand and into intense, possibly life-changing real feelings about each other—not that their hand-sex doesn’t rise to real feelings. Newcomer Tag meets Lisa33 and is fairly surprised when she jumps into libidinous chat that, as any member builds toward orgasm, is forever cut into by maddening cross-talk from those with their own agendas. LolaB wants to know whether Matthew Arnold was an elitist and which three developments of the ’60s revolution are still with us—she has papers to write. The very restrained Satish11, an Indian medical student and still a virgin, has no idea how to stroke a girl on the Net. For heavier, more private feelings, Lisa33 and Tag, whose spouses have no idea that Literoticus.com even exists, go off to Instant Messaging or write long midnight e-mails. As their romance deepens, both reveal devotion to their kids and unhappy marriages. These fantasy lovers take on a heartfelt reality for each other, and they want to meet. But the first rule of chat rooms is never to reveal your identity, and Tag is a corporate lawyer. Moonbeam does dare to meet Steve, but is ruefully disappointed by him in sex and every other way. Should Tag and Lisa33 disturb their marriages, or maintain their “shallow, passion-free, tragedy-free, invalid existences”?
All this falls far short of porn. Log on and join the fun.