I’d had this novel on my radar for a while. Unfortunately, though, never have I been so disappointed about a read I’d so hyped up in my mind. It wasn’t exactly a crash and burn, but it definitely fell from a pretty tall height at nearly whiplash-inducing speeds.
Doree Shafrir’s Startup was most definitely the knock-off version of Dave Eggers' The Circle (the book, not that terrible movie version). The characters were so mono-dimensional that I literally got them confused from time to time. No, literally, thought to myself, “Wait, I thought she was doing something else last chapter. Ooh, no, that was the other chick with a personality as flimsy as a paper doll.” The characters were as shallow as a kiddie pool and had no depth of consequence whatsoever. The men were all fist-pumping-type bros with over-inflated egos and near-megalomaniacal views of themselves. Now, I can’t say that this isn’t how it is in startup culture—I have no idea—but you’d think that writing the characters like that would be, at the very least, playing into every stereotype imaginable, wouldn’t you?
However, Startup did present a really witty look at Millennial culture. Though, as a Millennial myself, I’m not sure that this is such a great read for people who are actually of this generation (is Shafrir even? Doesn't seem like it), because it tended to come off as a near-parody of our already-outrageous cultural mores. That coupled with the fact that Shafrir kept popping in like an annoying game of peek-a-boo to comment on various aspects of the startup culture gave the novel an odd mashup of: vivid, interesting facts about startup arena MEETS condescendingly parodic interpretation of this generation.
Hmm, left a taste in my mouth that’s pretty similar to unsalted potatoes: I could take it or leave it on my plate; not really adding much to my intellectual meal at all.
The first half of the novel was so description heavy, I’m convinced that word count alone must've taken up at least a quarter of the word count. So much time was spent both describing everything—South by Southwest (sigh, multiple times), yuppie office spaces, pretty, rich WASPs flitting around NYC. Shafrir painted their world as though it were a dream—a tech bubble fantasy, if you will. That aspect of the novel admittedly added humor, never taking itself too seriously, and I’m sure that plenty of readers will love that version of comedy. I never said that Startup
wasn’t a lively read, full of pop culture references and characters who tried to be quirky—and I won’t take this moment to say that either—but I will note that often they came off as unlikable, entitled and pompous. Eeew.
While the main conflicts surrounding the startups themselves offered some appeal and functioned as the driving point of the novel, the internal, wholly first-world “struggles” of the characters were laughably superficial and mostly trivial (not humorously, mind you, laughably). (view spoiler) Floods and floods of details filled the pages, diluting the actual storyline, slowing the plot and washing out the impact that the read could have had. That space on the pages could have been put to better use for sure (view spoiler) Because of this, the tension was lackluster at best most of the time.
All in all, Startup was the chick-lit version of a techy person’s dream read. There was little substance, nothing substantial or memorable about it beyond the occasional head-nod-inducing riff or mildly humorous commentary. I’d recommend it for Tina Fey lovers and tech-minded folks in need of some mental reprieve. It’s a fun, mindless read that won’t change or rock your world but may entertain you for the few hours it takes to get through it. 3 stars ***
GUEST BOOK REVIEWER
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Navidad Thelamour has a B.A. in English, Creative Writing from Georgia State University and a M.A. in Publishing from Kingston University, London.
She’s worked for Hachette Livre, Little, Brown and Random House. She’s also worked with great non-fiction only houses like Zed Books, edited dozens of full-length manuscripts of all genres for both About Words Agency and Holloway Literary Agency, and worked with author J.J. Hensley as editor and agent on his renowned debut novel, Resolve!
She is the writer of a short story collection in the vein of Southern Gothic and is currently completing a full-length book which also explores the modern-day color line in America.
Armed with a love for books and a professional history doused in all things literary, she’s here to be your guide into a foray of literary treats at your fingertips!
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