‘Laser Writer II’ hides a dark corporate fairytale under its rosy nostalgia

Before the days of Apple Genius Bar appointments booked online, when your MacBook finked out in New York City you schlepped it down to Tekserve on West 23rd Street, where you pushed a lever for a numbered ticket, as if you were at Zabar’s smoked fish counter. Then, surrounded by other Mac users distressed by coffee spills and un-backed-up data, you settled into a fold-down wooden theater seat until your number flashed on the screen of a re-purposed Macintosh. Sometimes it was a very long wait.

I never thought I’d look back on those lost, scruffy days with nostalgia — until Tamara Shopsin’s unusual and oddly moving debut novel, LaserWriter II, brought it all back to me.

Shopsin, a graphic designer, illustrator, writer, and part-time cook, wrote about another New York institution in her refreshingly quirky memoir, Arbritrary Stupid Goal (2017) — her family’s eccentric Greenwich Village greasy spoon joint, where customers risked expulsion if they annoyed her father, which wasn’t hard to do. Just as that book was an ode to her unconventional upbringing and a community of free spirits, LaserWriter II celebrates another atypical business and the warm, supportive sense of community it spawned.

Shopsin’s coming-of-age novel follows a shy, bright 19-year-old New Yorker named Claire, who takes a job at Tekserve in the mid-1990s because she loves Apple products and the repair shop’s ethos of fairness to both employees and customers. (“If you are ever in doubt, do the right thing,” the company handbook advises.) She has no tech expertise, so she starts by working intake, a.k.a. triage, learning how to efficiently diagnose customers’ problems, direct jobs to the right techs (Teks, in the shop’s parlance), and write up SROs — Service Repair Orders. Before she knows it, she’s being re-trained to fill an opening in printer repairs, a promotion. (Yes, printers on the fritz weren’t always considered disposable.)

To her surprise, Claire loves the absorbing, finicky challenge of fixing laser printers. And to our surprise, Shopsin’s brief accounts of the never-ending stream of broken machines read like fascinating medical case histories. Among the few that Tekserve refuses to service is a…