By Haley Cullingham
The best books are at once absorbing and provocative, and Teddy Wayne’s first novel, Kapitoil, strikes the perfect balance. Written from the perspective of Karim, a programmer flown to New York from Quattar by the high-powered financial firm he works for to help them deal with Y2K, the book achieves a remarkable amount in just 300 pages, crafting characters and a context so believable you’d be easily fooled into thinking it was a memoir.
When Karim first moves to the city, he chronicles in his daily journal an account of language and cultural barriers he encounters, noting new English phrases at the end of each entry. As the book progresses, these notations become signposts for Karim’s integration into American society. A description of the plot, in which Karim innovates a program that quickly makes him a rising star at Schrubb Equities, makes the novel seem as though it is about finance, but really, it is a work about people. The connections Karim forges with friends and females in New York, and the struggles he faces maintaining his own personal integrity and a connection with his father and sister, bring him from the world of finance and computers he so understands into shakier territory, and his journal entries eloquently evoke his moral struggles with his newfound success, with both work and the ladies.
Wayne’s resume reads like a who’s-who of modern intelligent media, and this writer for McSweeney’s and the New York Times has created something rare-an everyman who just happens to be a programming wunderkind who seduces women with computer-generated fractal images. The novel is poignant, interesting, and thought-provoking, an exceptional study of a character who discovers himself as the reader does as well.