George V. Reilly

Review: Waxwings

Waxwings
Title: Waxwings
Author: Jonathan Raban
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Publisher: Pantheon
Copyright: 2003
Pages: 282
Keywords: fiction
Reading period: 17-23 September, 2007

Tom Janeway lives in Seattle with his wife Beth and their four-year-old son, Finn. Tom is a middle-aged Englishman who teaches writing at the University of Wash­ing­ton; Beth, somewhat younger, is an editor at GetAShack.com. It’s 1999 and the DotCom boom is raging. Chick is an illegal immigrant from China, with a raging en­tre­pre­neur­ial streak, who ends up wandering in and out of Tom’s life.

Tom is perceptive enough to be an occasional com­men­ta­tor on NPR’s All Things Considered, yet oblivious to the problems in his marriage, and he’s flab­ber­gast­ed when Beth leaves him. Worse still, through being in the wrong place at the wrong time, he becomes a person of interest in the abduction of a child, and he becomes a pariah when it’s mentioned in a Stranger article.

Raban brings DotCom Seattle to life, against a backdrop of the WTO riots, the can­cel­la­tion of the millenial New Year’s cel­e­bra­tion after the arrest of a bomber at Port Angeles, and other events that had slipped my mind.

Sur­pris­ing­ly few novels (to my knowledge) have attempted to capture the computer culture of Seattle. Only Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs and Daniel Oran’s so-so Ulterior Motive come to mind.

Tom is likeable and decent, yet ex­as­per­at­ing in his obliv­i­ous­ness. Beth, Finn, and Chick are all strongly realized characters.

En­ter­tain­ing and perceptive, and one of the better novels set in Seattle.

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