Manhattan tumbles into the dot-com collapse in this often amusing, observant tale.
In what amounts to an uneven series of comic sketches, second-novelist Williams (Younger than Springtime, 1997) brings together a passel of ambitious, starry-eyed, dope- and booze-deluded characters to kick off the 21st century with a thud. At the center is Jonathan Scarver, a CEO who is helming Internet start-up company Allminder.com toward a public offering he’s convinced will shower him in riches. No one, apparently, has noticed that the Allminder hasn’t turned a profit, that the company exploits some of its immigrant workers through a shady deal Scarver crafted, and that the exec is cheating on his wife. So far the company has the appropriately edgy image, thanks to its p.r. exec Brad Smith. Smith can spin away almost any threat, even if he has to crawl to work after nightly debauches at the Flatiron district’s trendiest watering holes. But Allminder’s resentful, underappreciated systems analyst Steven Bluestein has sniffed out what’s going on at the company by hacking into e-mails in which company members divulge damaging information. The nerd’s predictable revenge finds him forwarding the messages to where they can do the most damage—to the exploited, deceived, and victimized. When he does, not even Smith can sweep away the damage and chaos that results as Allminder crashes. Still, art and affection triumph in a hasty, tacked-on ending that suggests Smith will someday finish the novel he’s started, and that he’ll team up personally with Nicole Garrison, who, in some good scenes, circles the narrative’s periphery as an actress/waitress waiting for the big break and the right guy.
Plotting and structure wobble, but Williams can usually nail his characters with a whack in funny scenes that freshen the familiar (see also, Bonfire of the Vanities; Bright Lights, Big City; The Best of Everything; Valley of the Dolls, etc.).