Riding High in April, Jackie Townsend. Phoenix: Sparkpress, 2021.
Summary: A freelance writer faces some crucial life choices as she joins her software entrepreneur partner of fifteen years in Asia as he tries to launch an innovative open-source platform.
Stuart is a software entrepreneur has developed an innovative open source platform enabling people to securely network in the “cloud.” He teams up with a classmate, Niraj, from India to form a company to pursue clients and venture capital, a move that has taken them to South Korea, pursuing a contract with a telecom as well as the first round of venture capital funding.
Marie, his partner of fifteen years has a gift of finding the words to help companies explain their products. She sets all that aside to join Stuart in Asia. She tells him, “I don’t want to be apart anymore.” Yet Stuart keeps leaving as he pursues contracts, deals with his business partner’s meltdown in a family crisis, the betrayal of co-workers, and ultimately that of Niraj. She follows as he tries to put out fires, and has several encounters that force her to question the premise on which her life the last fifteen years has been based.
The narrative is punctuated with episodes of Marie’s swimming. It is her attempt to teach a fearful young girl to swim and consulting with a swimming guru, that confront her with a realization about her own life and how she has made decisions.
Stuart has those moments that could be moments of insight. A heart to heart with a Japanese investor speaking to him about his health. A bite by a deadly tokay that became infected. His father’s loving words to him amid the father’s declining physical and mental health.
But the pursuit of the dream, the ability to solve problems, the inability to fail, and the refusal to settle for…what? The house on a beach with Marie?
It’s a story about two people approaching midlife faced with choices about the second half and what these will mean for their relationship. But this central thread seems to get obscured with highly technical dives into the world of open-source software, networks, clouds, and data and the opportunities for fortunes or failures. At first, I thought this was a tech thriller, but the story unfolds amid a seemingly endless round of meetings, pitch decks, the ordinary business reverses and betrayals, the crises and the pivots.
And this seems to be the problem with the execution of this story. The “deep dive” into tech seemed to be so fascinating to the author that the reader scratches one’s head trying to figure out what kind of story one is reading. Then it dawns on you that it is about the choices of growth (or not) of two people and what those choices will mean.
And that is an interesting idea, one many couples face as they move from the first half to the second half of life. Perhaps the “deep dive” reflects how one or both may become so obsessed with their work, their dream, that they lose sight of the other or even of themselves. But I can’t help but wonder how many readers will wade through the tech parts of this book and how many others who geek out on the tech will be disappointed that this was not the tech thriller they might have hoped for.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
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