Long before the first shiny Apple Store arrived in Manhattan, Tekserve, the independent Macintosh computer repair shop,from 1987 to 2016. Those of us who were decorated with vintage Macs, a hanging porch swing, and an old-fashioned glass-bottle Coke machine. If your PowerBook 1400 ground to a halt or your jams, Tekserve was there to help.
Tamara Shopsin sets “LaserWriter II,” her first novel, at Tekserve around the late 1990s, before smartphones andbecame ubiquitous. It’s the story of 19-year-old Claire, illicitly auditing philosophy classes using someone else’s lost Columbia student ID. She’s a quiet idealist: “Claire was drawn to the type of anarchy that believed in small communities and held the promise of a just society. Everyone had said, ‘life is unfair,’ but maybe it could be.”
She. A help-wanted ad on a message board brings her to a Tekserve job interview and into an eccentric new , including audio engineers, theater people, and a Bulgarian electronics wizard. They’re all supervised by the company’s unorthodox founders, David Lerner, and Dick Demenus.
This dust eventually gets into the optics and causes pages to ghost.’”of experience, Claire is soon drafted into the printer department, where one of her first tasks is to fix the formidable LaserWriter II, a 45-pound hunk of hardware. Her trainer, Joel, tells her it has just one flaw and takes ten years to surface. “Joel pauses for breath,” Shopsin writes. “Claire is on the edge of her seat. He concludes, ‘The fan blades and sucks in the dust.
Shopsin, wary of making her novel read like an engineering manual, even with the riveting drama of industrial design hitches, takes a creative approach, anthropomorphizing the machine’s innards in reaction to an invasive repair: “Octagonal mirror’s voice wavers in reply, ‘As Susan Sontag said, “Courage is as contagious as fear.”’”
Inside LaserWriter II, Claire finds that “the, cook, restaurant co-owner, and a former printer technician — is clearly on comfortable ground, ambling through Claire’s existential quest in short sentences and choppy paragraphs, which create a tense rhythm, even when describing the activity around the office fish tank. (Shopsin credits her prose style to her work as an artist, telling the Los Angeles Review of Books, “My illustrations are spare; they tend to that the viewer fills in. These gaps are also a part of my writing.”)
Along with her protagonist’s talking printer parts, Shopsin also weaves the actual corporate. These side trips down geek memory lane will delight many an elder-nerd pining for the days when Apple was still an aggressive slight outlier punching up in a Windows PC world and not the $2 trillion Bigfoot it is today. Readers wanting a more linear narrative (or those never indoctrinated into the Cult of Mac) may get fidgety with the diversions, even as context for Claire’s story.
As demonstrated in “Stupid Arbitrary Goal,” her 2017 Greenwich Village memoir, Shopsin has a gift for capturing the minute details of a specific era in ever-evolving New York City, much like Paule Marshall’s 1950s immigrant Brooklyn or Joseph Mitchell’s midcentury character studies around the five boroughs. “LaserWriter II” is a screenshot of a less gentrified East Village in the 20th century’s final decade, with punk rockers squatting in an Avenue B apartment, broke intern reselling CDs to Mondo Kim’s on St. . when Apple Computer was the rebellious choice; poor rebels could afford to live in the Big Apple, and people found themselves offline in more ways than one.