Publication date: April 25th 2017
If your goal in writing a novel is to start conversation than Doree Shafrir succeeds in Startup. On the surface the novel is a quick-read satiric look at the young tech industry springing up in NYC, but underneath, business is the least of the issues Shafrir explores. At the center of the novel is Mack McAllister—the creator of TakeOff, an app that helps ease the stress of daily life. He’s twenty-eight—a key point, because almost no-one in the novel is even thirty. So, I’m as old as dirt. Which is just fine because it means I can sit back and watch the mayhem unfold when Shafrir decimates personal and professional boundaries with plotlines that perfectly mirror much of what’s happening in the world today.
Combining millennials, startup companies, technology and click-bait online media is a slam-dunk for controversy. If you aren’t familiar with any of these, trust me: it’s the Wild West. Remember Mack and his company, TakeOff? Well, he’s sleeping with Isabel, the company’s Engagement and Marketing person. They’re not exclusive, but when Isabel moves on to someone else Mack doesn’t get the memo. So, one drunken night, he sexts her. Then texts her when she doesn’t respond. Katya is a reporter for TechScene, a news site, where increasing pressure for more content and traffic means playing fast and loose with traditional journalistic ethics. Last, but not least, her boss is Dan and his wife, Sabrina works at TakeOff, for Isabel. Quite an incestuous little world and given that everyone in it is tech savvy the secrets in Startup don’t stay secrets for long.
Shafrir goes all in with what can go wrong with these scenarios. This makes for entertaining, but provocative reading. If someone is your boss and a friend with benefits with whom you’ve shared sex and nude photos and they continue to send them to you is that sexual harassment? Is deciding to call it harassment only for the money ethical? Shafrir isn’t content with just professional ethics—through Sabrina and Dan she explores the ‘older’ (they’re in their thirties- gasp!), settled crowd’s issues with marriage, parenting, and debt.
Back to my original point: Startup hits on a lot of today’s social issues and does it well. Every response to an event or character is likely to be changed later because the novel is built on grey area. By and large, this works really well. Right up until the last paragraph that is. About that, I’m not so happy. In fact, I hated the book’s ending. At best, I feel as if there must be a sequel on the way. At worst, Shafrir was told to wrap it up before she was ready. Either way, it left me aggravated because the novel strikes a great balance between snarky humor and deeper subjects, leading me to believe the ending would pack a punch. Instead, it fizzled. Is it enough to kill a recommendation? No. At most, prep yourself for a ho-hum ending that doesn’t jibe with the tone of the rest of the novel. The majority of Startup is filled with enough millennial entitlement, snark and new age speak that this cranky woman was laughing out loud.