cover image The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim

The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim

Jonathan Coe, Knopf, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-307-59481-5

Coe (The Rotters' Club) broadly satirizes the disconnectedness of modern life with the story of Maxwell Sim, who has 70 Facebook friends but no one he can turn to when his wife and daughter leave him. After a trip to Australia to reconnect with his estranged father leads nowhere, Trevor, one of Max's few real friends, offers him an unusual gig: drive a Prius to the northernmost tip of the British Isles as part of a promotion for a startup eco-toothbrush company. Max takes a meandering route that allows him to visit his ex-wife, check in on his father's long-empty apartment, and pay a visit to the parents of his childhood friends. He also develops a romantic fixation on the voice coming from his GPS, which he names Emma. True connection is elusive: Max gains insight to his marriage, but only after using a fake identity to befriend his ex-wife online; haunting incidents from his teenage years come into focus belatedly, and the clarity he finally achieves comes at the prompting of a stranger. Coe has a lot of fun skewering the way technology and social media have become buttresses of society, but the antic plot and unfortunately precious conclusion water down the thoughtful points. (Mar.)