Every book probably has a philosophical core, if you look hard enough. The act of writing itself, even a review, even one done without the benefit of the gift for crafting a plot (as mine are), is probably rooted in some sort of understanding of the way the world works. It’s all an expression of philosophy, a point of view, one means of making sense of some of the chaos. In some cases, that’s the draw of the novel itself – the desire to sink into that particular writer’s world view, to love it or hate it or just experience it for a short period of time. In cases where the writing itself lags a bit, that philosophical core might be the thing that drags the book, kicking and screaming, from the zone of “fluff” into “thoughtful”.
This might be my philosophical side emerging after a beer and the sweet, sweet relief of spring break descending upon this tired teacher.
Anyway, I read The Startup Wife, and while I don’t think it was a marvel of a book, there was an interesting thought at its core – a feminist leaning that stirred something within me – and that made the book completely palatable to me, despite finding many other elements lacking. I didn’t love the characters (which is a refrain I’ve been writing several times and I think I didn’t realize until I started actually reviewing the books I read how often I just find myself annoyed by the people that populate them … surely that says something about me? do other people who begin Cannonball Read find themselves realizing something like this? I thought I liked book characters!). My favorite character was the main character’s mother, a charming feminist Indian woman who is both protective of her daughters and supportive of their freedom – she whispers into her newborn granddaughter’s ear “And though she be little, she is fierce” and I want to be that cool when I’m a grandma.
In this book, Asha is amazing and not only invents Robot Feelings, but also a platform that mimics her husband’s mind. But, because her husband Cyrus has a penis, he is the star, reluctant though he may be. Her husband was her high school crush – the sort of person who feels he’s way beyond every other human because he’s so spiritually advanced and tied to his principles – exactly the sort of person who loses all those principles the moment he gets a woman to model an entire web based platform after his brain. He knows everything about every spiritual thing you might be interested in doing, because he is literally allowed to spend all of his time people watching and reading books. Asha gives up a PhD at MIT to invest in the social media platform she creates with their roommate, Jules. She convinces Cyrus to join the team – as CEO, natch – and soon enough they are a sensation. Asha and the other female founders she meets along her journey are constantly dodging the shit the men they are surrounded by throw at them. Eventually, everyone has to admit that Cyrus is just a human after all.
The novel is meant to satirize the start-up culture, with tech bros, obscure apps meant to prepare us for the apocalypse (or at least the lucky few who plan to survive the end of the world), and rampant sexism. But I think it’s largely doing too much. There’s so many ideas tossed out here, I’m not quite sure that there’s enough time to really consider any one of them. Is it a good idea to work so closely with your spouse, especially when you’re the creator and they’re the one getting the credit? What happens when we give someone with principles the power of a spiritual community online? What limits should we have on social media? What does it mean to nurture good relationships in our lives? That the book raised these questions gives hope that one can read it and find within its pages something new to be said about How To Be In This World. But for me, it fell just a little short of that mark – maybe the book was too full to be really filling. Or maybe I need another beer.