Startup by Doree Shafrir
Yet more Revenge of the English Majors (and also this, this)
Silicon Valley has grabbed vast amount of mental and cultural capital, especially among the best and brightest youngsters. World champion self congratulators, the Valley crew has made enemies on many fronts, not least among the hordes of talented people sucked into the startup culture.
Amazingly enough, the new way of work doesn’t look as great from bottom as from the top. And now we are getting a stream of stinging cultural commentary from disenchanted English Majors and others.
And many of there are-gasp-girls!
Shafrir’s novel is a highly realistic description of Startup life in NYC. There is little need to exaggerate, much of this stuff is self-satirizing. Shafrir is a frequent reporter and commentator on tech life, so she has plenty to draw on, and she doesn’t seem terribly sympathetic.
The setting is a tech company about to get VC funding for its pointless app, and also a media company in the same building, obsessed with traffic and twitter mentions. The details are fictional, but I’m sure many people easily recognize the real life nonsense of the new economy.
Much of the story involves the hazards of sexual politics in the office. “New economy” or not, Boys and girls are still boys and girls, and trouble is likely to ensue. This book is, unfortunately, a pretty realistic rendition of what kind of trouble can ensure. In places, it’s basically a text book for what not to do.
This story is definitely focused on several female protagonists who all face the double standards and icky pressures dealing with male bosses, colleagues, and significant others. Shafrir is almost certainly writing autobiography here.
These women are neither trivial nor superheroes. They all have flaws and make mistakes. And they are all struggling to make it, what ever that means.
One of the best features of the story is that Shafrir gives reasonable amounts of sympathy to many of the male characters. Even when they are being hypocritical and/or clueless bastards , she lets us see some depth and a glimmer of likability
On the other hand, the business school twats get little sympathy. Shafrir has sympathy for imperfect and naïve people who are creating something. She has less sympathy for people who are just moving money or selling stuff. One suspects that this, too, may be passed on personal experience.
There is a certain amount of whining about how NYC is just as good as Silicon Valley, and how SV steals all the talent, and so on. The vast majority of us really don’t care about this competition, and many of use hate the tech industry on both coasts.
There quite a bit of sighing and complaining about these feckless twenty somethings, who aren’t the way we were when we were 26—ten years ago. Kids today have no respect, they dress like bums, and their music—its just noise. They certainly have no clue about raising kids. All this from thirty somethings.
I suppose this is supposed to be humorous social comment, but it wasn’t all that entertaining for those of us in even older demographics. You are all feckless kids to me.
Finally, I have to say that there are places that are outright preachy and boring. Actually, quite a few places. Shafrir has some messages about the fate of journalism, sexual harassment, and other serious topics, and she has here characters lecture us about them. I agree with a lot of what she is driving at, but its not that interesting to read.
Overall, this is yet another in the growing shelf of contemporary fiction set in the nutty world of the new economy. She leaves the whole story hanging, so perhaps there is a sequel coming.
- Doree Shafrir, Startup, New York Little, Brown and Company, 2017.
Sunday Book Reviews