I’m lucky enough to get advanced reader copies of forthcoming books. Here’s one I found noteworthy.
“Data shadow.” “Digital footprint.” Whatever you want to call it, it is the remains of your online life. Emails, blog postings and tweets, purchases, video chats, cell phone pictures, cookies…anything to do with electronics could come back to haunt you one day. But what if it could come back to help someone?
In her second novel, Laurie Frankel examines the emotional and practical spectrum of what remains of the modern person after he or she shuffles off the mortal chip. Her main character, Sam Elling, is a talented programmer whose life is wrapped up in his employment with an internet dating company. He sees the disconnect between customer profiles and their actual behavior—if you were seeing the blockbuster movie and eating popcorn last weekend, not attending the foreign film festival and sampling the amuse-bouches, he knows it. No wonder his employer has a so-so record of matchmaking. So Sam sits down and writes an algorithm that asks the actual questions people want to know about their future companions. (Like the Bloom County first date comic where Cutter John asks the young lady if she shaves her legs. “Halfway,” she replies, happy to set aside the meaningless chatter.) It’s so successful that the first match he makes for himself turns out to be his soulmate Meredith (whom he calls Merde, to her great amusement). Great news for the happy couple, but as the company CEO points out as he’s firing Sam, not so good for the repeat business that keeps the cash flowing. And just after he’s lost his job, Merde loses her beloved grandmother, Livvie.
It’s a mixed blessing. Of course Meredith loves and misses her grandmother, but Livvie’s apartment is a perfect legacy to the two of them. Sam can see, though, that she’s distracted, even distraught, not processing her grandmother’s sudden death. So he decides to give her a gift. He writes another program, one which pulls Livvie’s online presence into a whole, then has it send Meredith an email based on the totality of their correspondence.
Upset, then excited, then intrigued by the possibilities, Merde begins to see the value of this kind of healing. She and Sam form RePose, a service that allows subscribers to “visit” with their deceased loved ones. They have to pick their way through the emotional minefield that programming can’t anticipate, but most clients love the opportunities RePose offers. Some use it for healing, some for a chance to tell off the person who tormented them for years, some for the simple companionship they feel with the deceased. There are business minefields and public relations minefields, but the two of them find joy in working together and drawing on each others’ strengths. But such things cannot last.
The premise captured my attention, but the way Frankel develops the bond between Sam and Meredith really resonated with me. (Based on my other posts, you wouldn’t believe that I’m a sucker for love stories, but what can I say?) She also creates some great secondary characters, especially Meredith’s California cousin, and the community of RePose clients makes a great extended family. There are dark sides to RePose, and she explores those with real insight into tragedy and the process of grieving.
Publication date: August 7
Check the WRL catalog for Goodbye for Now