Book review: 'LaserWriter II', by Tamara Shopsin

LASER WRITER II By Tamara Shopsin Long before the first shiny Apple Store arrived in Manhattan, there was Tekserve, the independent Mac...


LASER WRITER II
By Tamara Shopsin

Long before the first shiny Apple Store arrived in Manhattan, there was Tekserve, the independent Macintosh computer repair shop opened on West 23rd Street from 1987 to 2016. For those of us who were customers, it provided reliable service in a trendy space decorated with vintage Macs, a hanging swing, and an old-fashioned coke machine with a glass bottle. If your PowerBook 1400 stopped or your printer was constipated with paper jams, Tekserve was here to help.

Tamara Shopsin directed “LaserWriter II”, her first novel, at Tekserve in the late 1990s, before smartphones and social networks became ubiquitous. It’s the story of 19-year-old Claire, who searches for a goal and spends her free time illegally auditing philosophy classes using someone else’s lost Columbia student card. She’s a quiet idealist: “Claire was drawn to the type of anarchy that believed in small communities and kept the promise of a just society. Everyone had said: ‘life is not fair’, but maybe it could be.

She also loves Macs. A help-seeking announcement on a bulletin board leads him to a Tekserve job interview, then to a quirky new work family, which includes sound engineers, theater people, and a Bulgarian electronic assistant. They are all overseen by the company’s unorthodox founders, David Lerner and Dick Demenus.

Despite her inexperience, Claire was soon enlisted in the printing department, where one of her first jobs was to repair the formidable LaserWriter II, a large 45-pound piece of hardware. He has only one design flaw, his trainer, Joel, tells him, and it takes 10 years to surface. “Joel pauses to catch his breath,” Shopsin writes. “Claire is on the edge of her seat. He concludes: “The fan blades deform over time and suck up dust. This dust eventually penetrates the optics and forms ghost pages.

Shopsin, hesitant to have his novel read like an engineering textbook, even with the gripping drama of industrial design problems, takes a creative approach, anthropomorphizing the innards of the machine in reaction to an invasive repair: Sontag said, “The courage is as contagious as fear.

Inside a LaserWriter II, Claire finds that “the universe makes sense.” Shopsin – also an illustrator, cook, restaurant co-owner, and former print technician – is clearly on comfortable ground, tracing Claire’s existential quest in short sentences and choppy paragraphs, which create a tense rhythm, even when describing the activity around the aquarium office. (Shopsin attributes his prose style to his work as an artist, recounting the Los Angeles Review of Books, “My illustrations are spare; they tend to leave gaps that the viewer fills. These gaps are also part of my writing. “)

In addition to the talking parts of its protagonist’s printer, Shopsin also weaves the true corporate stories of Tekserve and Apple into the book. These side trips into geek memory will delight many older nerds who yearn for the days when Apple was still a fiery little outlier in a Windows PC world, and not the $ 2,000 billion Big Tech Bigfoot that it is. today. Readers who want a more linear narrative (or those who have never been brainwashed into the cult of Macs) may get agitated with the diversions, even against the backdrop of Claire’s story.

As she demonstrated in “Stupid arbitrary goal” his 2017 memoir in Greenwich Village, Shopsin has a knack for capturing the smallest detail of a specific era in ever-changing New York City, much like Paule Marshall’s 1950s immigrant Brooklyn or character studies mid-century Joseph Mitchell in the five boroughs. “LaserWriter II” is a screenshot of a less gentrified East Village in the last decade of the 20th century, with punk rockers crouching in an apartment on Avenue B, a broke intern selling CDs to Mondo Kim on St . Marks Place and sharp observations of Tekserve and his people. It’s a clean redraw of a time when Apple Computer was the rebel choice, poor rebels could afford to live in the Big Apple and – in more than one way – people found themselves. offline.

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