The author of Younger than Springtime offers a series of sharply clever and often comic character studies of New Yorkers riding the brief but intoxicating Internet boom. Jonathan Scarver, CEO of Web startup Allminder.com, is expanding his money-guzzling company, heading for a scheduled IPO that should net him "a nine-figure fortune" while juggling the demands of his tempestuous Arab investor, Farouk Kharrazi. Further down the food chain, PR ace Brad Smith makes loss sound like profit during the day and drinks himself into oblivion at night. But can Allminder stay afloat long enough to make that IPO? Tension, sexual and otherwise, also comes in the form of gorgeous Sierra, the smart ex-stripper whom Brad hires at the request of a rich investment banker buddy. Sierra shakes things up by using her charms to build a power base with Kharrazi, while Allminder's nerdy computer guru, who's been busy reading everyone's e-mail and knows the company's in trouble, unleashes a powerful virus that forwards people's emails to everyone on their contact list. Williams's crisp, ironic voice keeps the narrative clipping along, and a sweet subplot about a struggling actress named Nicole who survives a breakup with her boyfriend and a sabotage attempt by her jealous acting teacher to land the part of her dreams adds to the fun. Williams stumbles into a few clichés of plot and character, but his compassion for these confused and imperfect humans—especially as they try to piece together their lives after the predictable Allminder crash—provides balance and depth. The ending feels too fast and a bit too hopeful, but otherwise the novel's a winner. (Apr.)
Forecast: Some might accuse this Internet novel of coming a bit too late to the cyber party, but it's a fun, fast read and should do much to establish Williams's reputation. Solid blurbs from Claire Messud, Margot Livesey and John Casey should help, too.
Release date: 04/01/2004