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Book Review: ‘LaserWriter II,’ by Tamara Shopsin

by Mary Sewell

Long before the first shiny Apple Store arrived in Manhattan, Tekserve, the independent Macintosh computer repair shop, opened on West 23rd Street from 1987 to 2016. Those of us who were customers provided reliable service in a funky space decorated with vintage Macs, a hanging porch swing, and an old-fashioned glass-bottle Coke machine. If your PowerBook 1400 ground to a halt or your printer became constipated with paper jams.

Tekserve was there to help. Tamara Shopsin sets “LaserWriter II,” her first novel, at Tekserve around the late 1990s, before smartphones and social media became ubiquitous. It’s the story of 19-year-old Claire, who’s searching for purpose and spending her free time illicitly auditing philosophy classes using someone else’s lost Columbia student ID. She’s a quiet idealist: “Claire was drawn to the type of anarchy that believed in small communities and held the promise of a just society. Everyone had said, ‘life is not fair,’ but maybe it could be.”

She also loves Macs. A help-wanted ad on a message board brings her to a Tekserve job interview and then into an eccentric new work family, including audio engineers, theater people, and a Bulgarian electronics wizard. They’re all supervised by the company’s unorthodox founders, David Lerner and Dick Demenus.

Despite her lack of experience, Claire is soon drafted into the printer department, where one of her first tasks is to fix the formidable LaserWriter II, a 45-pound hunk of hardware. Her trainer, Joel, tells her that it has just one design flaw, and it takes 10 years to surface. “Joel pauses for breath,” Shopsin writes. “Claire is on the edge of her seat. He concludes, ‘The fan blades warp over time and suck in dust. This dust eventually gets into the optics and causes pages to ghost.’”

Shopsin, wary of making her novel read like an engineering manual, even with the riveting drama of industrial design hitches, takes a creative approach, anthropomorphizing the machine’s innards in reaction to an invasive repair: “Octagonal mirror’s voice wavers in reply, ‘As Susan Sontag said, “Courage is as contagious as fear.

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