Tamara Shopsin’s debut novel, LaserWriter II, is part roman à clef, part social history, part service manual, part parable, and, consistently, a transportive, joyous read.
LaserWriter II is set in the 1990s at the dawn of the desktop publishing era. In a time when beige, chugging ur-Macs took eons to boot up and toner cartridges ruled the world, a teenage midwestern misfit named Claire lands in Manhattan and scores a job at TekServe, the seminal (and recently shuttered) Mac repair shop in Chelsea. Claire is soon promoted from the intake desk to the repair floor, where she must quickly become a printer expert while fending off the relentless advances of Nathan, a TekServe hanger-on whose expertise she relies on. Like all her colleagues stumbling about this micro-universe, Claire is on an epic journey of the soul. However, the first third of the novel chronicles the sprawling backstories in the cultish advocate community Claire has joined: the origins of the Apple brand, the techies who shaped it, and the products they created.
Shopsin, who is also an illustrator, graphic designer, and memoirist, is an acutely observant writer. She’s collected an extensive history of TekServe, from the elaborate spreads at weekly staff breakfasts to the custom intake system that warns technicians about difficult customers. And, like many stories set in New York City, LaserWriter II features a parade of celebrity cameos—Steve Jobs, the Woz, Susan Kare, David Bowie, Samuel L. Jackson—who help illustrate the quirks and excesses of a small business start-up.
Shopsin’s narration is sharp and incisive, snarky yet kind. LaserWriter II evidences a bevy of influences, including Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, nearly anything by Banana Yoshimoto, Aesop’s Fables, Moby Dick, and—perhaps most of all—a dog-eared Macintosh service manual.
By far the most interesting characters are the anthropomorphized machine parts, which form a kind of impassioned Greek chorus throughout the novel. These critical components within broken machines have emotions and sex lives, ponder the meanings of existence, and are among the most enjoyable elements in the novel. It’s like watching the Jurassic Park movies, when, by the end credits, you’re rooting for the dinosaurs.