Helen Schulman's "Come With Me" explores the interaction of technology and relationships with annoying, upsetting and tragic results. And yet, the story is as warm, wise and spiritual.
Silicon Valley's married parents, Amy and Dan Messinger, face fairly typical challenges in their personal and professional lives. Amy is a publicist for her best friend's son, Donny, a Stanford undergraduate, who has a start-up (of course). Dan, meanwhile, is an unemployed journalist, but instead of looking for paid work, he chooses to accompany a videographer to the site of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Their teenage son, Jack, spends most of his time online with his girlfriend, Lily, who even rejoins the family at mealtime via Jack's cell phone. Their youngest identical twins, whom they call "Thing One" and "Thing Two" have problems in school. Nobody in this family is happy, exactly.
That's why Donny's nascent website, Furrier.com, appeals to Amy. The name of the site is a reminder of Donny's grandmother, who said she should have "married the furrier". Furrier.com allows people to access the "multiverse", a place where stored memories can be reworked to form an alternative life. scenarios. According to Donny, "If there is an infinite space, there are infinite grandmothers who make infinitely different decisions, and so all these grandmothers have an infinitely different life. In one of them, she found herself stuck with the furrier. But the results are not quite optimistic, which is evident when Amy becomes Donny's guinea pig, which leads her to relive one of her biggest regrets.
Dan's career with videographer Maryam also gives him access to other possible results. Maryam, a transsexual woman, possesses her beauty and sexuality in a way that Dan has never experienced and both are starting to fall in love. Their link is less like an infidelity than a homecoming as they cross the disrupted and unpopulated Japanese landscape. Their uninterrupted one-on-one moments make them feel particularly intimate in our digital world. But could such a connection survive in modern times?
Although Maryam is an interesting character, her portions tend to slide and dominate. For example, Lily and Lily, whose relationship defines the book in a big way, could be more time-consuming, but become a sad joke, especially when Lily "attends" a funeral via Skype.
Once again, maybe Schulman does not have the sense of joking, but a true future choice. Come With Me respects the human right to feel more than one thing at a time: sadness and fun, love and hate, nervousness and security. This is the kind of global acceptance that gives the book an impression both contemporary and classic.
Bethanne Patrickis the editor, more recently, of "Books that have changed my life: reflections of 100 authors, actors, musicians and other remarkable people".
COME WITH ME
By Helen Schulman
Harper. 320 pp. $ 26.99.