Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 489
Twenty-eight-year-old Emily Bach meets her sister Jessamine (Jess) for her twenty-third birthday dinner. They are opposites in nearly every way. Emily is the CEO of Veritech, a Silicon Valley start-up company specializing in data storage; Jess is a philosophy graduate student who works part-time in a rare and used book...
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Twenty-eight-year-old Emily Bach meets her sister Jessamine (Jess) for her twenty-third birthday dinner. They are opposites in nearly every way. Emily is the CEO of Veritech, a Silicon Valley start-up company specializing in data storage; Jess is a philosophy graduate student who works part-time in a rare and used book store. Emily is a high-powered executive who is about to take her company public, and Jess is an environmentalist looking for her next cause. Both girls are beautiful, though the older sister is clever and rather guarded and the younger sister is “small and whimsical.”
After dinner, Emily loads Jess’s bicycle in her car and drives her home because it is raining. Jess would not have minded riding home in the rain, but Emily minds for both of them. Jess lives in a mansion which has been converted into apartments located on the edge of campus in an artsy neighborhood. The girls are greeted by Mrs. Gibbs, another tenant in the building. She is a “petite black woman” who works as a nurse and blesses Emily’s head. Jess has two-roommates, Theresa and Roland.
Once in her room, Jess tries on the designer outfit Emily gave her; though it fits perfectly, she quickly changes into sweatpants and an oversized T-shirt which she prefers. Emily gives her a thick prospectus for the Initial Public Offering (IPO) for Veritech Corporation and shows her the Friends and Family offering. She encourages her sister to take advantage of the limited opportunity, but Jess has no money and cares little about making more. She has only ten days in which to act, and she promises Emily she will do so.
Emily and her boyfriend Jonathan have a long-distance relationship; it is not ideal, but it does not occur to Emily to complain. Jonathan has his own start-up company on the East Coast, and she misses him, too. The girls’ mother, Gillian, died when they were ten and five years old after battling breast cancer. Knowing she was dying, Gillian wrote letters filled with advice for each of her daughters to open on their birthdays until age twenty-five. This year’s letter encourages Jess to select a career and let Emily help her when needed.
Their father has remarried; he and Heidi have two young daughters, Lily and Maya. Jess reveals that when she was twelve she read all of her mother’s letters—as well as all of Emily’s letters. Birthdays make Emily sad, for she remembers and misses her mother. Their father, Richard, lives in Canaan, Massachusetts, and he has become someone different than he was when the sisters were growing up; for example, he has taken up running, something none of them ever liked to do. Both girls think their half-sisters are adorable but lament that their stepmother never cooks. The sisters talk late into the night. Emily remembers their mother; and Jess remembers, too, when Emily talks about her.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 486
Jess Bach works at Yorrick’s Used and Rare Books, “a secret mine or quarry where she can pry crystals from crevices and sweep precious jewels straight off the floor.” She is compelled to advise every customer and offers her opinion to each one as they look for just the right book. Her boss, George Friedman, does not like to leave her alone in the store, as she occasionally scares shoppers away. Though this store is more of a project than a business to him, Friedman hopes to make it profitable one day, and Jess is completely unconcerned about profit. On the other hand, he likes spending time with this unique girl.
Friedman is “old money, a Microsoft millionaire now returned to Berkeley” where he had studied physics. All of his friends have spent and collected, married and divorced; Friedman retired, donated, and traveled along with them, but he is an eccentric and a reader, as well. Now thirty-nine, Friedman has a house in the hills and lives a life of extreme privacy. He is paranoid about information technology, fearing the government will eventually control all information and identity. He also detests big business; despite the fact that he made his fortune on it, he calls Microsoft the “Evil Empire.” He wants pages to turn, records to spin, and prefers typewriters to keyboards. His own library of rare books is “small, select, and static”; but his stock at Yorrick’s is wide, varied, and always for sale.
He has always had trouble finding good help for the store, but Jess intrigued him and he quickly hired her. Friedman likes provoking Jess and finds her quite endearing. Though he has always wanted to be married, he has never found the right woman. At the end of her shift today, Jess uncomfortably asks her boss if he would be willing to give her an advance on her salary for eighteen hundred dollars to buy shares in Veritech. He tells her she should ask her family for the money.
Friedman’s younger friend, Nick Eberhart, is married to Julia, who is ten years his junior. She is nothing like Friedman’s growing-up impression of a housewife. The two men go running and Friedman rants about Jess. Eberhart is amused that his friend talks about this girl so often.
Friedman’s house is his obsession, and he has meticulously restored it. It is full of signed and first-edition books, antique maps, typewriters, classic comics, and fine wines. Though his life is quite civilized, Friedman is dissatisfied. He took everything he wanted in his youth, and he experienced great loss. Now he is consumed by a new desire: “to live better, or at least less self-indulgently, to give more, to start a family.” Though he hungers for companionship, he remains unfulfilled. He is “hard to please and difficult to surprise.” Friedman wants beautiful, authentic things, but nothing has satisfied his longings.
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While it is true that the rather Bohemian Jess is completely non-materialistic, she thinks about money all the time because she never has any. She spends her nights now wondering where she can get the money for Veritech stock without resorting to asking her father. She feels he has disapproved of every path she has taken in her life, including her current pursuit of a doctorate degree in philosophy. Jess wishes Emily had not ever offered her the Veritech investment opportunity. Though money had never interested her before, Jess wants it now and is tired of worrying about money like most students do, but that is what she is.
One of her roommates is also broke; the other, Raymond, is skeptical that there is any money to be made in such a speculative venture. Finally, when her ten days are nearly up, she calls her father. He answers the phone and then lets Lily talk to Jess; however, Lily hangs up and her father never calls her back. Emily scolds Jess delaying so long, and Jess wishes her boss would just have written her a check. Her assessment of him is that he is “strange and self-absorbed,” pretentious and old—and he loves saying no to everything.
As she does her laundry in the basement laundry room that night, Jess wishes she could call the grandfather to whom she had been so close. Mrs. Gibbs, another tenant, comes to the laundry room. She can see that something is bothering Jess and she prays for her. Jess explains what is bothering her and Gibbs says she will talk to her rabbi about Jess’s problem. Jess is surprised that Gibbs is Jewish. Years ago, Gibbs felt the Lord calling her to become part of His chosen people and converted to Judaism. She is now a member of the Berkeley Bialystok Center. Later, Jess tells Theresa, her roommate, about her conversation with Gibbs, and Laura is also surprised that the older woman is Jewish. Theresa warns Jess that Gibbs undoubtedly wants to steal her soul. Theresa is familiar with such things because she grew up in an extremely evangelical household but managed to escape her family who still lives in Hawaii. Theresa believes Jess tends to attract fanatics.
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Rabbi Nachum Helfgott was sent, with his wife and baby, to Berkeley fifteen years ago. He is part of the Bialystok (Hasidic) sect and dresses accordingly. “Burly, bearded, and gregarious,” he is a familiar sight on campus and is known affectionately as “the Berkinstoker.” Jess and Mrs. Gibbs arrive at a brown Victorian house and are greeted by the beaming rabbi. Jess had met the rabbi once when each of them was distributing leaflets in a crowd; she wanted people to save the trees and he wanted people to “Do a Mitzvah Today.” They traded leaflets, and the rabbi promised to save a tree if she would light Shabbes candles.
Now he recognizes her and tells her he planted a tree; she is ashamed that she did not light the candles. Helfgott readily forgives her, reminding her that every week the world begins again with Shabbes. Jess formally introduces herself and discovers the rabbi’s brother-in-law lives in Canaan, Massachusetts, like her father and his new family. Gibbs stands near the window, silently praying, as Jess and the rabbi enter his cluttered office. Gillian Bach, Jess’s mother, was Jewish and came from London; the rabbi’s wife is also from London, be he does not know Gillian’s family. Helfgott explains that the head of the Bialystoker movement, though an old man, views the Internet as a powerful tool to “transmit the Torah everywhere.”
Helfgott does not believe in coincidences, insisting that it is no accident that Gibbs came to him years ago though she was not a Jew, that she lives in the same building as Jess, and that Jess is involved—however peripherally—with the Internet. Helfgott has one love in addition to the Torah, and it is computers. This love began as a hobby and now he understands that he was sent to Berkeley all those years ago so he could be the one presented with this investment opportunity. Eighteen hundred is a “very special number” in the Hebrew language, for the letters add up to life.
As the rabbi writes a check, he explains to Jess that he avidly watches the stock market and already own stock in some technology companies. He is quite aware that Veritech is the next stock everyone will want to buy. He is loaning her the money with no expectation of any additional return. She will repay the loan; if she wants to do anything more than that, she can make a gift to a charity, to the Bialystok Center—or she can give nothing at all. Jess is investing in Veritech, and the rabbi is investing in her.
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Emily, the CEO of Veritech, has always been the one “to take care and take charge,” and she is also the peacemaker for the company. Her partners are young and need her to be the adult, at times. Alex Zaslovsky, Chief Technology Officer, is twenty-two, a child prodigy who still speaks with a slight Russian accent. The company’s Chief Financial Officer is twenty-five-year-old Milton Leong, a jovial young man with a delightful sense of humor.
The three of them tell a romanticized version of how the company began, but the truth is that Zaslovsky and Leong writing a project and MBA student Emily Bach had been looking for an infrastructure project. The trio wants Veritech to become “the biggest Web-based data-storage company in the world.” Swiss-born Bruno, aged forty-one, is the company’s primary venture capitalist driving the company’s “blockbuster IPO.” Everyone in the company knows this is a sensitive and critical time. Zaslovsky is in love with Emily; she finds his crush on her awkward but tries not to take advantage of his obvious feelings for her. Zaslovsky feels the increasing pressure of having to create innovative technology ideas virtually every week. His latest idea is password-based electronic fingerprinting, allowing companies to track who, when, and where any document is accessed. It is “so audacious and innovative” an idea that Veritech will be able to become a data storage and security company, though it does pose some ethical dilemmas. Emily sees the potential and names the password recognition system Verify.
Though Emily is high-tech and forward-thinking at work, she is “paradoxically old-fashioned in her life.” She hosts a Sunday brunch the day before Veritech’s IPO. Zaslovsky brings her flowers; her assistant, Laura, brings cinnamon rolls, her two young children, and her husband Kevin. Leong arrives ready to work, Jess is there to help, and Bruno is out of town.
Jonathan has some experience in this field, as his start-up company is storming the data-security market with a product called Lockbox which encodes data and transactions for Internet vendors. Jonathan is a “charismatic geek” who negotiates firmly and is an intuitive businessman. As they talk by telephone, he fills Emily with confidence. For a moment, Emily longs for a more domestic life, like Laura’s. In the morning, everyone connected to Veritech has gathered to wait for the Stock Market to open and Veritech stock to begin trading. As thousands trade and the numbers fluctuate upward, every person in the room is cheering, but they are all also calculating their new—and vastly improved—net worths. Emily now has a personal fortune, on paper, of more than three hundred and fifty million dollars. Even those with the lowest number of shares are now millionaires, though they are all forbidden to trade in on their riches for six months. After thirty minutes of watching, everyone returns to work, though everyone with a computer constantly checks their stock’s progress.
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George Friedman is “courting a collection” of rare books from a secretive seller who showed up at Yorrick’s claiming she inherited them from her uncle. Sandra McClintock is about his age, but she looks as if she has suffered some great loss from which she has never recovered. She only shows Friedman two books, both of which are quite old cookbooks. When he gives her an appraisal on them, he asks if the other books in the collection she inherited are also cookbooks. She answers noncommittally and says she might be interested in an appraisal but looks disappointed at the amount of the check he gives her.
Jess is in the store when Sandra brings in one more book for Friedman to examine, announcing that it is the last book she will show him. It is an interesting cookbook which Friedman wants, and it only enhances his desire to see the entire collection. He hears Jess flirting behind some shelves of book with a fellow environmental activist, a boy named Noah from Save the Trees. He is obviously trying to persuade Jess to actually experience the trees she is trying to save by going up in one, though she tells the boy she is afraid of heights. Friedman calls her to get back to work, but Jess asks him to show Noah a certain rare book locked in a case. Friedman reluctantly opens the case for Jess.
After Noah leaves, Jess accuses her employer of loving to own books more than actually loving to read them. Friedman tries to explain his feelings about books by showing her a book which was read several hundred years ago; he loves that he can read it now just as other people read it then. Jess notices a white scar on his hand which runs up under his shirt cuff. Friedman dismisses it as a cooking accident.
Jess believes all books start to die without readers and Friedman nearly invites her to his house to see his personal collection of rare books. She wants to put up a poster from Save the Trees, but he refuses despite her insistence that the environmental sentiments on the poster are expressed in poetry. Jess admits to having written poetry earlier in her life, but Friedman senses no regret in her. He silently observes that Jess is young and innocent enough not to have been scarred by life yet.
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Jess knows her boss dislikes Noah but assumes that it is because Friedman dislikes any causes which are not his own. He consistently tries to convince Jess that Save the Trees is an extremist group committing violence such as spiking trees in order to maim loggers as they work. Jess has a little money now and likes the feeling; she regularly checks her stock prices as they fluctuate. At first she feels guilty about having money, but she intends to give her shares to a worthy cause.
Tonight Friedman insists on driving her after work because her bicycle is getting tuned up, and he drops her off where she requests, at an old mansion where many members of the organization live. It is the Save the Trees Co-op, and Friedman stays until Jess goes inside the house. It is called the Tree House, and this is the first time Jess has been invited to a party here. A diminutive woman, Daisy, opens the door. The house, which really does resemble a tree house, is full of eclectic and mismatched furniture, but it is comfortable.
The founder of Save the Trees, Leon, is an over-thirty man wearing jeans and a faded t-shirt. He is a “brilliant organizer, a heartbreaker, supposedly, and also somehow rich.” He owns this house and rents it to Save the Trees as its headquarters, training facility, and “experiment in communal living.” Jess knows who he is, for she had a secret crush on him during her undergraduate days, but has never met him. As Leon shows her the house, they discover Noah smoking a joint behind a curtain and Jess suddenly realizes she hardly even knows Noah and prepares to leave. She sees people but they all look alike, and the house seems suddenly hazy and cloying to her so she goes outside for some air.
Suddenly Leon is behind her, holding her jacket. He tells her there are too many “friends of friends” at the party and he pushes her in a tree swing as they talk and begin a dangerous flirtation. They both attended Brandeis University; he remembers her but at the time he had been “unhappily involved.” He is experienced, she is not, and he promises her with his eyes that he will never hurt her. Then he speaks with a “cautious sincerity he doesn’t feel” as he promises her he will not interfere with her relationship with Noah. As he speaks, however, the two of them are nearly touching and then they kiss.
They are interrupted by the arrival of firemen responding to a fire alarm at the Tree House. Leon tells her to wait and he will send someone to get her. Hundreds of people suddenly stream from the “Bacchanalian house” and the police pull the plug on the sound system which is violating the noise ordinance. As the police talk to Leon, Daisy appears to take Jess home as Leon promised. Daisy says this kind of thing “happens all the time.”
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Jess spends the next day and last night with Leon, talking trees and politics, and she nearly misses her early-morning flight to Boston for Thanksgiving. She does not tell her sister Emily, who is waiting to board with her, how Leon wove for her a fantasy world, a world without technology in which trees are not used for telephone poles. Jess cannot bear the thought of giving up books, however, even to save trees. She does not want to tell Emily that at sunrise Leon rushed her home to grab her suitcase and that is why she arrived at the gate with only minutes to spare before it closed.
The sisters are going to their father’s house for Thanksgiving. Jess immediately begins reading a book, afraid Emily will see “something different about her.” It is a long trip and it is a “misty, messy” night in Boston when they arrive. Though their father welcomes them both, Richard Bach clearly favors his oldest and most successful daughter. Bach attended MIT for both his undergraduate and graduate degrees, and now he teaches there. After Emily left for college, Bach grew fretful and controlling, and Jess retreated to her room with her books until she, too, left for college. Both of them were waiting for the freedom, love, and life which was possible for them both once they were not the only ones left.
Nothing much is new in Bach’s life, though a religious nonprofit organization may be building a childcare center abutting his back yard. Bach hates everything about religion. The girls’ stepmother Heidi meets them at the door but the little girls are already asleep. Heidi, one of her husband’s former graduate students, is a teacher at Brown University. Within minutes of their arrival, Jess and her father are fussing with each other just as they had when she was sixteen.
Emily cares for Jess, who has a fever, a task she takes seriously because her mother asked, from her hospital bed, for Emily to do so. Jess wakes on Thanksgiving morning and is miserable, envying Emily’s being able to leave with Jonathan. The girls’ toys are too pink and too plastic for Jess’s taste, but she does enjoy playing outside a bit with her younger sisters. She sees a dark-suited man walking just beyond the hedge of her father’s yard. “His eyes are the rare pure blue found in the very young or the very old.” He introduces himself as Rabbi Shimon Zylberfenig, the director of the Bialystok Center of Canaan. Jess is surprised to learn that he is Rabbi Helfgott’s brother-in-law, but the rabbi does not believe in coincidences and invites Jess and her family to Shabbes dinner at the center. Chaya, the rabbi’s wife, is waiting in the van, excited to hear his positive assessment of the property. She worries about many things, but her husband is optimistic. While she deals with the practical issues of raising six children in a rather inhospitable town, he always expects miracles.
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On Thanksgiving Day, the Bach family drives to a restaurant in Providence for dinner because Heidi never cooks. Jonathan is not with them as they all originally planned; he had to cancel because the server at his company, ISIS, crashed this morning. He promised Emily they will celebrate their Thanksgiving together tomorrow. Though Emily is despondent, Jonathan is in high spirits because Emily is in such close proximity for the holiday and because he believes he will be as rich as she is in just a few weeks.
It seems as if everyone is anticipating their imminent prosperity. Rabbi Zylberfenig has a regular student and congregant, Barbara Millstein, whose husband is the Director of Human Resources at ISIS, and she wants to share any wealth they earn from her husband’s company with the Bialystok Center. Barbara is serving Thanksgiving dinner to her husband, Mel, and rhapsodizing to him and her children about her Jewish studies. Millstein feels as if his wife is having an affair with her faith, for she is clearly in love with Jewishness, with the entire Zylberfenig family, and with the Bialystok Center of Canaan.
Though Millstein is Jewish, he is not particularly religious and what he sees as religious superstition makes him nervous. The more Barbara prays over their house and family, the more nervous he gets that something awful might happen to all of them. His wife hums all the time now; she never used to hum at all. She is happy and she donates regularly both to the Bialystok Center and to the Zylberfenigs. Millstein is happy, too, until Barbara mentions how happy she will be when they can give some of their ISIS stock, after the Initial Public Offering (IPO), to the center. This is an unthinkable idea to her husband, and he flatly refuses—if ISIS goes public and when he is officially cleared to sell his stock—to give anything to “those Hasidic lunatics” of hers. Mel Millstein is angry and Barbara Millstein is hurt.
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When Jess sees the rabbi in the garden next door again, she calls her father to come see. Richard Bach figures the man must be the one who is contemplating building “a day-care scheme” virtually in his backyard. When Jess defends the man, saying Rabbi Zylberfenig did not seem crazy to her, Bach claims all the Jews care about is infiltrating this community and accumulating money. Jess sees her father’s views have hardened into anger. He had never believed in God, but now he is antagonistic toward Him. Jess suggests her father go talk to the rabbi, but Bach says he has nothing to say.
Jonathan arrives and everyone in the family is eager to greet him, including Jess who likes him least. He is just the sort of man Emily’s father loves: “technical and bright and poised to conquer worlds.” He has a masculine energy which compels people to want to please him, and he adores Emily. When they first met, Jonathan was in awe of her, for she and her company were doing everything he wanted to do.
Emily and Jonathan escape to Cambridge to meet their friends, Orion and Molly, for dinner. Orion is Emily’s childhood friend and was her first sweetheart; they maintained contact through college where Orion introduced her to Jonathan. Molly is an intern at Beth Israel Deaconess, and Orion works with Jonathan at ISIS. The couples celebrate Veritech’s success.
Emily feels as if she would be disloyal to her company if she were to sell any of her stock in June when she is able; Jonathan already has elaborate plans for his money, if it ever happens as he hopes. Orion is not as hopeful, since he has managed to break the newest version of Lockbox, a supposedly impervious code. This development could potentially delay the company’s IPO indefinitely. The two men argue about this problem. Emily assures them both that this is a typical argument between programmers and marketers. On the way home, Emily scolds Jonathan a bit, and he offers to let Orion go work for Veritech, as he no longer wants Orion at ISIS.
Though Emily is competitive, she is not driven to annihilate any competition. Jonathan even drives his car as if he were in a race. As he takes her in his arms back at his apartment, he claims she is just as competitive as he is; she denies seeing business as a “demolition derby, trying to win at all costs.” He insists she is no different than him.
Jonathan goads Emily into revealing Veritech’s newest project; Emily decides to confide in him about Verify in order to prove to herself that he loves her enough to keep her secrets. Jonathan is overwhelmed that she would tell him so much. She asks him about the problem Orion has found in Lockbox, hoping to feel more connected to the man she loves. To Jonathan, Emily’s question is just proof that she is just as competitive as he is.
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To Jonathan Tilghman, raised on a farm in Nebraska, information is valued currency. In his world, secrets are for trading, not for keeping. Veritech’s electronic fingerprinting idea tempts him, as he recognizes its potential in the technology and security marketplace. He considers developing such an encryption service at ISIS, but he loves Emily and does not want to violate her trust.
Jonathan has always been both bright and competitive. When he started ISIS, investors practically threw money at him. He and three friends, including Orion, won fifty thousand dollars as seed money for a business start-up and stole two experienced men from MIT (where he was a student) to join their venture: Oskar Feuchtwanger, and eminent cryptologist, and Mel Millstein, an accomplished computer science administrative assistant. The former is now Senior Scientist; the latter is now Director of Human Resources. Jonathan is disappointed that Emily, his idea of excellence in every way, knows how competitive and unscrupulous he is and yet she tempted him with her inside information. If this is a test, he does not understand it.
After Thanksgiving, Jonathan meets with Dave, CEO of ISIS, and does not reveal Emily’s secret; however, that is because, Dave, the “designated grownup” of the company, would not understand electronic fingerprinting. Dave is always looking five years ahead while Jonathan is always looking five weeks ahead. ISIS needs more programmers, but Mel Millstein cannot hire them quickly enough, and Dave wants to fire him. Millstein is sick with anxiety, constantly afraid Dave will fire him. In one sense it would be a relief to him, for Millstein is too old (fifty-seven) to be competitive in such a young field; yet he loves being part of something magical, doing what he had only ever read about before. First anxiety and now back pain have him in agony nearly every minute of the day; he has bad days and worse days.
The week after Thanksgiving, Dave calls him in, and Millstein is torn. Though his physical agonies might be alleviated, he cannot bear to leave the company before his shares are vested. Before that meeting, Millstein talks with Jonathan and says he needs more help. Jonathan blithely suggests that it should be easy to recruit for ISIS, as they have so much to offer. When Millstein says he is afraid Dave is going to fire him, Jonathan is dismissive, saying it would “look terrible” to fire Millstein so close to the IPO. Jonathan assures his former mentor that he will deal with Dave; all Millstein needs to do is his job.
Before Millstein leaves, Jonathan tells the older man a secret which is will announce at the end of the day: Yahoo has signed on for premium ChainLinx protection. Millstein is thrilled at the news and at the fact that Jonathan chose to tell him first. The company’s young workers all whoop and holler when Jonathan announces the news; the only member of the group who sees nothing to cheer about is Orion.
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Orion’s father, Lou Steiner, is an eccentric poet, particularly popular with school children and environmentalists. Orion grew up with his mother after the divorce, and he used to avoid his father because he was an embarrassment. Emily Bach was the daughter his mother always yearned for, but Orion has been with Molly since college and no longer avoids his father. Steiner is “an original” and has only met Molly’s parents once—and he told them a drawn-out dirty joke just to see if they would laugh. Today Molly’s parents are visiting, and the young couple joins them for brunch.
Orion and Molly have talked about getting engaged but things are comfortable as they are. Molly’s father, Carl Eisenstat, is a famous physicist and, in the beginning, he made it clear to Orion that he believes computer science is not a true science; now he asks about Orion’s latest programming feats. The potential for making a lot of money seems to have changed his mind. Suddenly a future with Molly looks too much to Orion like her parents’ lives. Orion gets a call from Jonathan but ignores it.
Back at their apartment, Molly drops immediately (and unromantically) into bed. Orion finally realizes there is a company emergency and goes to ISIS. Orion holds no title in the company by his own choice, though he rather wishes he had one now. Jonathan scolds Orion for expressing his belief in free software in a newspaper interview. One week before their IPO, this idea could scare current and potential investors. Orion is scolded for expressing his opinion and threatened to keep his opinions to himself, but he remains unmoved.
Orion sees a colleague, Sorel Fisher, a rather ethereal young woman with whom Orion is captivated, being tormented by some programmers for crashing the new Lockbox system. For hours she and Orion work on parallel computers to debug the code. By evening, they are intimately sharing one computer, digging to find her mistake. By the time they find it and repair the error, it is sunrise and they prepare to go outside to celebrate. Just as they are about to leave, the entire building loses power. Everything is dark for several moments, but soon everything lights up and begins to whir. The incident is soon forgotten.
Orion and Sorel walk and talk. She writes an impromptu song and plays it on her guitar, and Orion wants to kiss her. Sorel wants to be fabulously rich; Orion confesses he does not want ISIS to go public. Finally he does kiss her: “That is when he begins to fall in love with her.” He feels a calm centeredness until he has to tell her he has a girlfriend. Sorel was a graduate student in physics and is impressed that Orion knows the Carl Eisenstat, but she says she cannot be involved with anyone who is already in a relationship.
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Orion arrives home without the milk Molly had asked him to bring. He feels as if he has been somewhere far away and art-filled all night and is now returning to his mundane, depressing life. Both Molly and Orion work nights; it has become a kind of competition between them—to see who can stay away working longer. They have a ridiculous argument over laundry and recycling. Later they decide to hire a maid service, send their laundry out, and buy a car so Molly will not be dependent on public transportation at her odd hours. They have no money now, but in six months they can solve nearly all their problems.
The next day Orion writes code as usual but cannot keep his mind on the task; all he can think about is Sorel and her empty cubicle. He tries to write her an e-mail, but nothing sounds right. Because he is preoccupied, he is late to a Research and Development meeting. The president and cryptographer Oskar is a “lively seventy-year-old” who is brilliant and fun, though Jonathan sees him as egomaniacal. Jonathan is out of sorts with Orion and appreciates Jake’s original brilliance (Jake is one of the original three partners), but on a personal level Jonathan is jealous of Jake’s easy gifts. As the men talk about moving forward more quickly, Jonathan is frustrated by what seems to him to be a lack of new ideas to develop immediately.
This is the moment when Jonathan is tempted to tell the others what he has learned from Emily and Veritech: surveillance is the future of their business and they should begin to pursue electronic fingerprinting software. He knows even the brilliant men in the room would be impressed with his foresight, and he struggles not to speak.
He has to leave the room and needs to talk to Emily. He sees in her not what he is now but what he could be, but he is “secretly, cruelly relieved” that they live separate lives. He does not want to love her so much because he is not ready to give up such childish things as lying and cheating. Emily is talking with her sister when he calls her, but she dismisses Jess to talk to him. He feels the need to confess, but all he can really say is that he left an R and D meeting; he is not willing to upset Emily by confessing that he was tempted to reveal her secret. “He needs Emily to believe in him so that he can believe in himself.”
Because of that, Jonathan rarely tells her the entire truth about himself or about his company. He lied to her about how significant the Lockbox program error is, and he lies to her now. ISIS will go public in a week and they will celebrate together. Jonathan is convinced that lies are only “futures waiting to come true.”
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ISIS celebrates its IPO with “equal parts relief and trepidation.” Orion notices that his colleagues are no longer talking about luxury items but about wills, trusts, and options. Investment advisors come to ISIS to present financial strategies. Gradually the awkwardness between Orion and Sorel has dissipated and he has “begun to cultivate Sorel’s friendship.” It is his only goal at ISIS now, as he has refused an executive position and is not currently in charge of any major projects.
Orion spends all his time dreaming about Sorel, about what it would be like to be with her; ISIS, which had seemed “bleak and gray” to him, has now become the place where he can see her. He works at ISIS but dreams of leaving; he sleeps with Molly but dreams of being with Sorel. One night he and Molly are out for the night when he sees a performance artist, an angel, and knows it is Sorel, though she stays in character and does not acknowledge him. When he asks her about it later, she tells him it is her art, and she gives away any money she gets.
Orion and Sorel seem to be the only ones in the company who are convinced that Lockbox “could come crashing down” when a hacker one day gains access to countless pieces of protected data. Orion is certain it will happen, but Jonathan will not even consider the possibility, refusing to listen to Orion’s warnings. He condemns Orion for being disloyal. After ISIS stock peaks at one hundred and thirty-three dollars a share and everyone is celebrating, Orion again tries to convince Jonathan to “close down Lockbox and start over”; however, Jonathan accuses him of leaving the team and therefore he has no right to have his voice heard.
ISIS holds an elaborate New Year’s Eve party to celebrate the Millennium. When Orion sees Jonathan and Emily together he wonders how they remain a couple. Both he and Emily loved the old Jonathan, the “rambunctious, fun-loving, lay-down-his-life, wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night, drive-anywhere-for-his-friends Jonathan.” But Jonathan’s current relationship with Emily makes no sense. When she and Orion are alone for a moment, Emily senses something is wrong, but Orion does not want to tell her. She asks if what Jonathan told her is true, that Orion is leaving; he assures her he is not leaving ISIS. He, like everyone else, only gets along with Jonathan until he crosses him. Orion senses Emily’s loyalty and he wants to hug her for it. He wants to tell her he believes Jonathan is a liar, that he is “willing to sacrifice people for products, and trade quality for profits.” Most of all, Orion wants to ask Emily how Jonathan is treating her, but he cannot.
Emily says she knows Jonathan has a temper, but he feels as if he has given Orion a lot. This is not something Orion’s friend would say; it is something Jonathan’s friend would say, and Orion tells Emily the comment is beneath her.
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The Millsteins have moved into a twenty-one-room mansion on the property behind Richard Bach’s house. Orion buys his first car, a BMW, and Jonathan buys Emily an engagement ring on an impulse. Within months, however, Veritech stock loses half its value and ISIS stock is down to thirty dollars a share and all extravagant plans are on hold. Millstein panics and sells his stocks at their lowest price and Jess donates nearly all her shares to Save the Trees.
Emily does not approve of her sister’s moving in with Leon and his “amorphous environmental group.” One day Jess meets Rabbi Helfgott and apologizes for not repaying his loan yet. Instead of paying him first, Jess gave nearly all her stock to Save the Trees; now she is waiting for her few remaining shares to rebound in value so she can repay him. Helfgott is happy that she donated her stocks; she promises to repay him with interest. The only interest he wants is her time.
Jess is late for work and when Friedman cannot reach her, he assumes she quit and ran off with her oily environmentalist (whom he met once). Sandra McClintock has sold him books twice in the past two months; today she wants him to come to her uncle’s house to appraise his collection of nearly two thousand books. Friedman closes the store, leaves a terse note for Jess, and drives Sandra to her uncle’s old bungalow where they are greeted by an especially unfriendly cat. The kitchen is filled with nothing but cookbooks. Friedman is overwhelmed by the numbers, the antiquity, and the specialization of this collection. In each volume are notes, bits of poetry, newspaper clippings, and drawings.
Sandra explains that Tom McClintock, her uncle, was a famous lichenologist who taught at Cal for forty years. Friedman is mesmerized by McClintock’s poetry and sensual ink drawings; he wants this intriguing collection but Sandra is inexplicably afraid of betraying her uncle by selling his collection. Though he is euphoric about this find, Friedman does not tell Jess because he does not trust Leon.
Friedman tells Jess her activism is making absolutely no difference in the world. Even worse, the organization only spends money it gets sustaining its lifestyle. That night Friedman cooks in his meticulously renovated 1933 kitchen and feels guilty for being so harsh with Jess. His culinary passions stem from his relationship with a woman named Margaret who was both passionate and wild; she is the one who cut his hand and arm with a paring knife. Tonight his friends Nick and Raj (a fellow rare book dealer) come to dinner. Friedman admits he has discovered the most important books he has ever found on his own; Raj reveals that he saw the cookbook collection several weeks ago. Sandra told them both she would consider each man’s offer. Friedman’s guests leave late and he longs for Jess in a “confusingly paternal” and nurturing way.
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Friedman asks Jess if he can trust her to “keep a poker face” if he takes her to see Sandra’s collection. He may need Jess’s help, but Sandra is “skittish” and he does not want Jess to “gush” as she so often does over books she loves. While working at Yorrick’s, Jess has become a kind of book connoisseur. Though she once only valued the content of a book, now she recognizes that form matters, too. Friedman will need her for three days on short notice, but she has very little time between being a “student, tree lover, citizen of the Earth,” and lover of Leon.
Jess is not a strict vegan and is increasingly hungry in body and spirit. A year ago, she and Leon “had been inseparable,” and he has tried to cajole her into living in the trees with him at times, but she cannot overcome her fear. On the weekends Leon is gone, Jess attends Friday-night blessings at the Bialystok Center where she is welcomed by the rabbi and his wife, Freyda, as an honored guest. One night, Freyda introduces her sister, Chaya Zylberfenig, to Jess. Chaya peers at her closely and says Jess looks like a Gould. Freyda and Chaya are Goulds, so she looks like one of them.
When Leon is gone, Jess is lonely and somewhat isolated. During the winter break, she has to work on her paper and make up her Incompletes. Emily is on the East Coast, so Jess has been driving her Audi. She leaves to pick Emily up from the airport and discovers the car has been stolen. She meets Emily and has to tell her the bad news. Emily immediately rents a car; her only real reaction is disbelief that Jess had not bothered to report the theft to the police.
From then on, Emily picks Jess up every few week and feeds her as she offers advice about every aspect of Jess’s life. She even pays Jess’s apartment rent so she will have someplace other then the Tree House to sleep, a home away from the “totally inappropriate” forty-year-old Leon.
Emily wants Jess to do well; Jess would rather be well. Emily is worried that Jess may be dropping out of school and has no career. Jess is worried because Emily’s company is in legal battles with other technology companies. Emily is upset that Leon does not have a real job; Jess is disgusted that Jonathan’s primary pursuit is profit. Their mother would have hated both men because they are selfish.
Neither Emily nor Jonathan is willing to move cross-country yet, so they have not set a wedding date. Jess is glad. She swears to change her life by overcoming her fear of heights this year, but she wants a different sort of change for her sister. Emily has taken many risks, but she has not risked her life. Jess assures Emily that her choices are also life-and-death.
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Emily does not treat her business decisions as if they are life and death. She works with such “cool confidence” that she inspires others to create their own businesses. Charlie, the company chef, has opened his own restaurant, and her assistant Laura’s husband Kevin has dropped out of his accounting degree program. Laura is nervous when they buy a “two-million-dollar-fixer-upper.” Kevin confesses that he never liked accounting but could never afford to say so before. Laura is still afraid, content with what they already have; however, Kevin wants his wife to have the best of everything, despite her misgivings.
Emily founded Veritech with the ideal vision of merging technology and truth. She loves her company, her colleagues, and her job. Alex Zaslovsky finally presents his “unadulterated electronic surveillance plans.” He has spent the last six months creating a prototype designed to record and follow the movements of every user who touches a cache of data—all without the user’s knowledge. This is far beyond the privacy boundaries of his original Verify idea. This even goes beyond security—this is spyware, and it is not what he and Emily discussed. Emily pronounces that Veritech will not, under any circumstances, pursue this idea.
She and Zaslovsky argue in the parking lot. This is a dangerous plan, according to Emily, but Zaslovsky disdainfully accuses her of naively wanting the data-storage business to be “warm and friendly.”He insists Emily simply does not comprehend his program’s potential and accuses her of being unconcerned about innovation. Even more, he accuses Emily of trying to manage him and wanting him to obey her. She was hoping this was “a framework” within which he could pursue his own work in keeping with Veritech’s goals. Zaslovsky is disgusted, claiming Emily thinks he is too young and quits his job because he “is tired of waiting.” Emily reminds him that any work he did belongs contractually belongs to Veritech. If Emily is too limited for him, he will take his “brilliant, conspiratorial ideas elsewhere.”
Emily thought his infatuation with her was over, but now she sees it is much worse than she thought. It is obvious to her that “bundling spyware with storage services “ is “morally wrong” and wonders if Zaslovsky might be dangerous to her. Once she is safely in her car, she calls Jonathan and tells him Veritech will never pursue Zaslovsky’s electronic fingerprinting system. Jonathan is silent for a moment. Jonathan is not only relieved, he is ecstatic at no longer being bound by the weight of her proprietary secret. Morally, electronic fingerprinting now seems to him as if it is “practically in the public domain.” Jonathan quickly dismisses Zaslovsky as a “shark,” but Emily does not see her colleagues in such terms. She believes people are like her, rational and courteous; and if they prove to be otherwise, she is convinced she can influence them to be better. She behaves well and expects others to do the same.
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George Friedman and his two employees, Jess and Colm, are working feverishly to appraise Sandra McClintock’s inherited and fascinating cookbook collection. It is a difficult task as Sandra hovers incessantly, Colm is allergic to the cat, and no one is allowed to wear shoes in the under-heated house. The cookbooks range from palm-sized to gargantuan, and assessing each rare book’s value quickly and accurately is a daunting task. Each volume has hand-written notes, bits of poetry, and fine ink drawings.
Friedman is so overwhelmed that he considers calling in an expert; however, he is so enamored of it that he does not want to risk losing any of the collection to a rival. He discovers his friend Raj is also courting Sandra’s collection by making a contribution in her name to the Gay and Lesbian Legal Alliance. Jess seems to understand something Friedman does not—that Sandra’s choice is less about the assessed value of the books than it is about assessing what Sandra really wants. While Friedman assumes, of course, that she wants money, Jess believes that what the odd woman wants is to be able to tell someone her story. She is “looking for the best listener.”
They continue working until Friedman finally sends Jess to discover what Raj has already learned about the odd and secretive woman: “her history, her crisis, her fantasy.” Sandra is sitting in her uncle’s office and she is upset because of her daughter, her uncle, and her current situation. Her uncle was ninety-three years old, childless, emaciated, and dying when he told her he was leaving her his house. She may do anything she wants with it, but she is never to sell the books. Before he died, she had never seen her reclusive uncle’s collection, so she did not know what she was promising.
Now she is afraid that McClintock’s ghost still haunts his house. Sandra believes in reincarnation (she was once a Russian princess) and is afraid because what she does now will affect her next life, a life in which her uncle might punish her. Sandra does not trust Friedman, but Jess defends him and believes he would have been a gentleman in his past life. The only reason Sandra is desperate enough to sell the collection, the accumulation of McClintock’s life, is that her daughter Leslie is going to lose her children. Leslie’s partner is the children’s biological mother, but Leslie is the one who cared for them. The other woman took them away with her and Sandra is afraid that in the year they have been gone the children will have forgotten Leslie.
Jess tells Sandra about the loss of her own mother and assures her that Friedman will appreciate the books more than Raj because he is a reader as well as a collector. When the women emerge from the study, Friedman can see victory in Jess’s eyes. She looks back at him, asking him why he doubted that she would win this collection for him.
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The Stock Market dips and swoons like a “beautiful diver,” and, looking back, the analysts should have predicted the ultimate crash. Millions of speculators and day traders are scavenging for profit; Rabbi Helfgott is one of them. Though Veritech stock drops to two dollars a share and ISIS to seventy-five cents, he is hopeful. His sanguine personality is better equipped than most to weather such “market turbulence.” The Bialystok Center of Berkeley is paid for so he is not afraid, and he is confident the market will rebound.
Others are not as hopeful. When ISIS stock hits a low of seventy cents a share, Jonathan takes it personally and vows that his company will “come roaring back” because he will make it happen. He and Emily have set a wedding date for October, but they have not bought a place to live and she has not left Veritech. In fact, she has set up a new research group for Alex Zaslovsky—rewarding bad behavior, according to Jonathan—and has postponed her move to the East Coast three times and has now pushed the wedding date back, as well. She seems excessively patient to Jonathan, and he wonders what would happen if they no longer lived with such an intense level of anticipation and if she will be able to give up her life to be with him full time.
Jonathan is a “prisoner of his enormous expectations,” and he desperately wants to “reclaim what might have been.” Jonathan gathers the company to encourage the people who helped build this company. In the midst of this rousing pep rally, Sorel is the only one watching the computer monitors and sees the first signs of a breach in the ISIS security network. More lights appear until the entire world appears to be lit up. Lockbox is broken and disabled, but the cheering is so loud that Only Orion notices Sorel’s distress. He whispers the news to Jonathan: hackers have finally infiltrated the “tiny chinks” in Lockbox which Orion had identified much earlier, and now the company’s entire security system has been compromised.
The ISIS team works for two straight days, but the news spreads quickly around the world. The CEO, Dave, decides that ISIS will recall Lockbox and automatically upgrade all of its customers, free of charge, to ChainLinx. Jonathan resists, but Dave assures him that this is the only way to save ISIS. Orion is relieved, now that the worst has happened, and is as confident as Jonathan that ISIS will outlast any adversity.
He rides Sorel home on his bicycle; she is not as enamored of Jonathan, calling him insufferable and accusing him of being Orion’s oppressor: “In her mind, Jonathan is the enemy.” They have been working for so long that neither of them can properly remember what day it is. Orion kisses her; though she clearly likes him, she tells him he must go. Orion is determined to find a way for her to love him.
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Veritech experiences market fluctuations and its employees feel like “leaves tossed in unexpected storms.” Laura tries to maintain some normalcy despite the fact that her family has lost nearly half their net worth in three days. Her husband says they should not panic, though he reveals that he borrowed against some of their stock in order to pay for the renovations on their expensive new home. Laura is angry because he acted without consulting her; if he ever gambles with her “hard-earned luck again,” she will take the children and leave to start her own company. He is shocked at such vehemence from his sweet, quiet wife.
While the market is struggling, Friedman buys technology stocks. He also buys Sandra McClintock’s cookbook collection for nearly half a million dollars, the exact amount she needs for her daughter’s custody battle. He knows the collection is worth much more than the amount he paid, and he knows Jess is responsible for his acquiring it. He has installed beautiful and humidity-controlled protective cases to display the books and hosts a gathering for others to view his “rare and secret treasures.” The display is exquisite in every way. Amid his preparations, Friedman thinks about Jess and wonders what she will think of his house.
On the evening of the party, Friedman is nervous. Raj arrives with Sandra and her daughter. He bought all of Tom McClintock’s engravings (for an extraordinarily low price) and has no bad feelings toward Friedman for acquiring the cookbook collection. At sunset, Friedman sees Jess arrive with her older environmentalist boyfriend, Leon, accompanied by her sister Emily and her fiancé Jonathan. Jess feels as if she has entered a museum and immediately goes to examine her employer’s book collection. Having Jess in his home and meeting her sister would have made Friedman “perfectly happy” if it had not been for Leon.
Jess knows instinctively that the two men will “bring out the worst in each other.” Leon is careless and obviously unimpressed with everything he sees, while Friedman continues to be a gracious host. Leon has been working up north to save the trees and pointedly says that “nothing with trees happens on the ground”—a dig at Jess who has not yet conquered her fear of heights.
When Leon leaves to get a drink, Friedman longs to talk with Jess alone but settles for a semi-private conversation. He wants to tell her that he did all of this for her because he loves her, but what he says is that he owes her and wants her to keep working on the cookbook collection. He even offers her a title: curator. Jess wants to know who McClintock loved, the woman he wrote poetry to and made drawings of and which are now tucked into every cookbook. Friedman asks why she assumes the woman was his lover. As Friedman’s hand brushes hers, Jess understands what Friedman already knows. McClintock drew the woman he loved because he could not have her.
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Jonathan is calm and confident as ISIS stock climbs to nine dollars and then drops again to five fifty. He is impatient with all the fretting, particularly from the venture capitalists who begged him to take their money in 1998. They are obviously reading and watching the news, something Jonathan dismisses because it is outdated by the time it is in print or on the air. He is a newsmaker and an innovator who does not know economic theories but does know computers. He does not act based on trends and always looks to the future. While Emily views falling share prices as a “sad decay, a postlapsarian decline from larger, rounder numbers,” Jonathan sees the fall as an opportunity to buy back shares in his company. He is “convinced of his company’s resilience.”
When ISIS shares sink to a new low in April, Jonathan announces to the company leaders that ISIS is about to undergo a paradigm shift and will develop a new security product: an electronic fingerprinting system called Fast-Tracking. It is the data-protection and surveillance tool that Emily confided to him eighteen months ago; he will replicate the program now that she has made it clear that Veritech will not pursue the project. He has so transformed the idea in his own mind that Emily becomes for him the Muse he worships to get new ideas. He will tell her this plan, and many other new things, but not yet. Emily has promised to leave Veritech in June, but they still have not determined where they will live.
The others in the room are “dazzled” as Jonathan presents his idea, and Orion is “hopeful for the first time in months.” When Orion volunteers to head the project, Jonathan is amused but eventually agrees. Orion is worth twenty million dollars, and now he has a chance to prove that his success in this company was not accidental. As soon as he leaves the meeting, Orion tells Sorel about Jonathan’s new project and that he will be the team leader for the Fast-Track group. She does not trust Jonathan and immediately believes he is setting Orion up for failure. Orion insists he is not being used by his long-time friend and thinks Sorel would make a good spy because she does not trust anyone—including him.
He asks why she is often gone (she tours with her band) and why her telephone number is unlisted (she only has a cell phone). Sorel is puzzled because she has told him that ISIS has never been more than a day-job to her. She is the realist, here to study physics and be a performance artist; he is the romantic who holds on to relationships even when they are frayed or broken. Orion does not want to talk about Molly, but Sorel knows he feels this way about Molly, ISIS, and Jonathan. She thinks it is a shame that she is so fond of Orion, a man who is “loyal to everybody.”
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Rabbi Helfgott is speaking tonight at the Tree House by Jess’s invitation. He explains it is the Jewish tradition to believe every spirit—animal, plant, insect, tree, human—“desires the Oneness that is God.” Leon asks whether civil disobedience is part of that tradition; Jess wonders if “social action can be a kind of prayer.” The rabbi maintains that prayer is proscribed and social action is improvised. In the Jewish faith, one has no need to invent, for there is already a prayer for every occasion. He says charity, on the other hand, is a kind of justice; doing something for the planet is an act of both charity and justice. Leon wants to use the rabbi to further his cause, but Jess will not do it.
She spends five hours a day at Friedman’s house cataloging the McClintock cookbook collection. His house, secluded in the hills, overwhelms her at first; but she is always aware of Friedman’s faith and trust in her as he allows her to work alone with his valuable collections. As she searches through each volume, she wonders who McClintock was. His sensual drawings, poetry, and menus make Jess wonder about the woman he loved. The recipes in these books are wonderfully detailed and sometimes violent; the more she reads, the more the drawings and poetry seem to fit the subject matter. This work makes her hungry.
Leon is unhappy and jealous because Jess will not join him in his protests; Jess cares only about the books, but Leon knows Friedman wants Jess and he is angry. He calls her fear of heights childish and irrational; she defends the importance of her work. Friedman still never comes home when she is there, but Jess is a bit jumpier than she had been before her argument with Leon.
Several weeks pass and she relaxes again until the day Friedman leaves a tempting peach on the counter. On the third day of temptation, the fruit is perfectly ripe and she eats it after replacing it with an organic peach she brought with her. Friedman appears as she is relishing the succulent fruit. It is later than Jess usually stays and Friedman cooks dinner for her. Jess watches and Friedman seems completely at ease in his kitchen. She is a little drunk on wine but eager to finally talk with someone about the work she has been doing on the cookbooks. They begin by talking, but soon their chairs are pushed together and they are touching. Friedman shows her his house and tells her about his scar; she tells him the sad secret that she never thinks about her mother because she has no real memories of her. Friedman is gentle, allowing her to cry. Tenderly, they kiss.
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Emily knows her sister is hiding something from her. It is Emily’s thirtieth birthday, and the sisters are in Emily’s condominium reading their mother’s letters. Jess stays up reading and rereading the letters, as they are more interesting to her now than they used to be. There is something oblique about the language her mother uses; it is filled with “might-haves and could-have-beens, undescribed and unexplained.” Before Jess had always read them for information, but now she sees “subtexts and secrets” everywhere.
She suddenly realizes that, growing up, she never saw any photographs of Gillian before she married and became a mother. The girls were told that Gillian never got along with her parents in London and they disowned her when she married a non-Jew. Because of this, the girls have never met anyone from their mother’s family. Though she died young, Gillian’s letters reveal that she was young and still searching when she died.
Though Jess still lives at the Tree House (Leon is away) and does her usual activities, she and Friedman are often together. He takes her places, cooks meals and plays his cello for her. They live in “a bubble of their own” and do not speak of their secret to others or to themselves. “Even a single word could break the spell,” so they enjoy rather than speak or think. Jess knows she needs to have time away to think; Friedman knows he is intoxicated with her and must slow down. But neither of them acts on what they know.
Jess discovers a 1738 palm-sized cookbook, the first Scottish cookbook written by a woman, Mrs. McLintock. There are only two known copies in the world. Friedman knows Leon is dangerous, but he also knows he is capable of breaking Jess’s heart. Jess is comfortable with Friedman, but she and Leon share similar philosophies and she hates the thought of being a rich older man’s kept mistress. She and Friedman are “philosophically unsuited, financially unequal, generationally mismatched,” but they are alike in passion and tenderness and she craves his company. He is teaching her about wine and researching, and Tom McClintock, “sensualist and lichenologist, artist, lover, ghost” is her best advisor.
Reading one of his menu poems one day, Jess finds an acrostic that indicates the woman McClintock loved was named Janet. When she asks Sandra if she is sure her uncle never married or loved a Janet, Sandra says she is sure: Janet McClintock was her mother. Her uncle did not like to eat and her mother was “happily married for sixty-two years, and she was perfectly sensible and lucid until the day she died at eighty-three.” Jess is convinced Janet McClintock was the object of McClintock’s unrequited love. Jess tells Friedman her father does not like her because he does not appreciate religion, poetry, or philosophy. Friedman assures Jess her father will understand once she publishes her article about the cookbook collection. She is “scholarly, investigative, joyful,” and Friedman is in love with her.
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In the real world love is fine, but survival matters most. Veritech is cash-poor and ISIS is in nearly the same situation. Emily feels she has “no time to breathe” and Jonathan has become “warlike, confident as ever, but edgy from lack of sleep.” He insists Mel Millstein arrange for a booth for ISIS at a job fair in Los Angeles in early September. Though the company is not hiring right now, Jonathan wants to keep ISIS in the forefront of every young programmer’s mind so that, six months from now the company can hire anyone it chooses. Jonathan insists Millstein go himself and Jonathan will probably join him. The older man is horrified because he knows his back pain on such a trip would be excruciating. When Millstein suggests he could send his assistants, Jonathan announces that he had to fire them because the company (which is in the process of moving into cheaper office space) has had to make some cuts.
When Emily calls, Jonathan is impatient. She explains that Jess is going to Arcata and intends to climb, claiming she has been practicing. Emily is concerned that her sister, who is afraid of heights, is suddenly going to try to climb a two-hundred-foot redwood tree. Jonathan is unconcerned but says he will be in California during the week of Jess’s climb. Emily knows Jonathan has never liked her sister and is too impatient to realize how dangerous this climb will be.
Jess insists that she has to climb because she is not a coward and has “to grow up sometime.” In truth, Jess is frightened. Her thoughts about Friedman are as intense when she is away from him as when she is with him. She is “altogether infatuated” and wonders how it happened. She is entranced by him as well as his things and mourns that she is more materialistic than she thought. Her affair with him disgusts her, and she thinks she should be doing revolutionary work instead of drinking wine and kissing. But she loves talking with Friedman and waking up in his arms.
Jess resolves to “fall out of love” and has the chance to start the process when Friedman tells her he is having friends over for dinner on Labor Day and awkwardly admits he does not want her there. She is both relieved and hurt, announcing she will be tree-sitting with Leon and others in Arcata that weekend. Friedman tells her it is an adolescent and dangerous thing to do. Jess believes it is childish of them both to pretend they are living in their own world when they each have lives in which the other is not welcome.
In anger, Jess accuses him of only wanting her around at his convenience; he is finally able to interrupt her rant to remind her that she has never been his prisoner. She practically admits that she is leaving to get away from him more than to be with Leon.
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Friedman hopes Jess will call or come back, at least to continue cataloguing the cookbook collection or to finish her essay, but a week passes and he hears nothing from her. He laments to his friends that he will have to find someone else to finish the cataloguing, but no one can replace her. He does not even look at the cookbooks when she is gone. When Friedman and his friend Nick Eberstat go running, Eberstat notices that Friedman no longer talks incessantly about Jess and realizes his friend might be in love with the girl. Friedman regretfully admits he was exploiting Jess by being both her employer and her lover. Now that it is too late, Friedman keeps thinking about everything he could have done differently to make the relationship more equitable. Eberstat gently reminds him that this is generally best accomplished by marriage.
Friedman has trouble sleeping and working; all he wants is Jess but he has “no way to reach her.” He writes her a letter apologizing for scolding her like a child. Though Jess does not belong to him and is free to do what she likes, Friedman regrets he is so much older and wishes they belonged to one another. He writes that he is sorry for being selfish, but he loves her “in the worst possible way, sleeplessly, desperately, jealously.” He also loves her in the best way and wants only good things for her: “to work, and learn, and grow, and find her place in the world.” He stops writing when he realizes that nothing matters to him except Jess.
He drives through a rainstorm to find her. Jess is crouching in the rain on a small platform one hundred and fifty feet up a tree called Galadriel, an ancient redwood marked for execution by a lumber company. She has been there for two days and plans to stay for a week. Her fear has not disappeared; it has simply “settled deep inside her.” As the time passes and the rain keeps falling, Jess misses Friedman “relentlessly, rhythmically, like the slow, steady rain.” But she knows what she needs and what she wants are “completely different.”
In the morning the rain ends. She regains radio contact with Leon on the ground below her when a huge branch falls “like a missile” and pierces the earth. Now she is afraid and, despite Leon’s efforts to guilt her into staying, begs him to come get her. Leon knows she was not ready for this and it was wrong of him to let her make this climb. He tells the cowering girl that Friedman is below, has been there since yesterday demanding to see her. Leon descends with Jess, but then Friedman is the only one who pays any attention to her. He starts to scold her but she cannot bear the shame. She is in no condition to drive, but she stumbles to the Honda he loaned her and, though she is shaking, drives away.
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Jess’s hands are bleeding from rope burns, and she weaves unsteadily between lanes as she drives away. She of how Leon severed their relationship with one condemning look up on the platform. She sees Friedman following her and “accelerates her anger and her humiliation.” Friedman follows in his Mercedes, knowing he can do better if she will just let him.
Jess drives for nearly three hours until she is calmer. She drives to Fern Hollow and parks in a dirt lot. She does not get out of the car, so Friedman finally gets into the passenger seat, He waits for her to speak, but she remains silent. Finally he apologizes for coming after her and embarrassing her. She accuses him of caring more for objects than for people because all the things he has collected will never leave him. Friedman is hurt by her accusations but tends to the rope burns on Jess’s hands. He has water, a tent, a first-aid kit, and food in his trunk. She lets him wash and bandage her hands; when he removes her wet shoes and socks and rubs her feet dry, she begins to cry. He puts a pair of his clean socks and some too-big shoes on her feet and Jess walks, glad to be uncramped and on solid ground.
Friedman hovers, and Jess scolds him for being overbearing; he confesses he is falling in love with her. She reminds him that they do not agree on anything, but he reminds her there are some things they do agree on and asks her to marry him. He did not understand before that he would only rather be alone if he cannot be with her. She insists they must be equal and wonders what would happen if she asked him to give up all his things to be equal to her. He says of course they would fight, but that is okay. He begs her to marry him, explaining that he spent his life chasing and acquiring things but had given up on finding someone to love. Now he wants to live for her and with her. They set up a campsite and Friedman feeds her. They do not know, nor does anyone else, that the world will change tomorrow, on September 11.
In Canaan, Bach runs early and glares at the Millsteins’ mansion; Rabbi Zylberfenig’s boys are being mischievous; Jonathan is running; and Orion and Sorel sit on a riverbank discussing Fast-Track. Jonathan still has not told Emily about the program idea he stole from her, though he has justified and rationalized it in his mind. He sees Sorel leaning on Orion’s shoulder and stops to talk to them. Orion looks at his friend and can see that Jonathan does not intend to tell their secret. Emily tries repeatedly to call her sister, but Jess’s cell phone is lost. ISIS programmers are working and Molly is dreaming of babies as she arrives home after a long night assisting in the delivery room.
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Years later, everyone will remember where they were on the morning of September 11. The act is unthinkable and the devastating scenes play constantly on televisions everywhere. Mrs. Gibbs is just finishing her night shift at the medical center and sees the horrific images on every patient’s television. Laura and her children are mesmerized by the images they see on the news, and Chaya Zylberfenig calls to her optimistic husband, daring him to make sense of what she is watching.
At ISIS, Jonathan’s coworkers are horrified when they realize American Airlines Flight 11, the plane which crashed into the tower, is Jonathan’s flight. Orion answers the telephone and Sorel cries as she tells him the news about Jonathan. Orion and Molly watch the news and read the ISIS email announcing that both Jonathan and Mel Millstein were on the flight and presumed dead. Though he and Molly share their grief, Orion and Sorel need to see one another, as they had been the last to see Jonathan and he had been the first to see them together. Though he feels pity for Millstein, it is Jonathan whom he will never forget. Orion wonders how Emily is taking the news.
Emily hears the news as she sits down to breakfast. Her bag is packed, as she was going to fly to Los Angeles to meet Jonathan right after work later today. She hears the report and, like everyone, is shocked and horrified. Even when she hears that the crashed plane left from Boston, Emily does not think it was Jonathan’s flight, because he should have left much earlier. Now all flights have been grounded. She tries to call him so they can adjust their plans, but she gets no answer. Then Dave at ISIS calls her and tells her the tragic news.
People are calling her and she hears their messages, but she goes upstairs and huddles in her bed. Sleep is her only escape. When she wakes up, she works her way backward in time until she remembers her last conversation with Jonathan. They had argued, Jonathan accusing her of not missing him because she was not willing to change her schedule to come see him—even though she reminded him that she was the one leaving her job to come live with him. She almost convinces herself that he had been too angry with her to board that plane, but then she assumes the full responsibility for Jonathan’s death. She reasons that if she had not postponed their wedding, Jonathan would not have had to fly to California and would still be alive today. She had not loved him enough. She had been too measured and cautious, and she had murdered him.
Eventually she hears a horrible banging on her door. It is Jess, wearing the elegant suit Emily had given her so many years ago. Jess is wearing it now to prove to her hysterical sister that she has come to take care of her.
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The world mourns the tragedy of September 11, but nothing matters to Emily. For days she does nothing and does not plan to attend Jonathan’s memorial service. Everyone expresses their condolences, but Emily does not respond to anything. Jess is the “perfect companion, fielding phone calls” and protecting her sister.
Waking up is difficult, for every day Emily has to convince herself that her future with Jonathan is gone and so is the person she had grown into with him. Her future, she feels, is ruined and she hates him for dying so suddenly. One night Emily and Jess talk, and Jess confesses that she had to quit working at Yorrick’s but does not tell Emily she and Friedman are engaged.
ISIS executives decide to “think like Jonathan” and “seize this moment” to release Jonathan’s electronic fingerprinting program, OSIRIS: Operational Security and Internet Surveillance. Orion objects to his program being exploited, insisting “Jonathan would not have done this.” What he really means is that the “Jonathan he loved would not have wanted this,” but Orion is the only protester and scolds them for being so mercenary, especially on the day of his friend’s memorial service. Dave tells Orion they all loved Jonathan, too, and he says so again at the service later that afternoon.
Orion is so angry he nearly decides not to go, but his father is speaking. Orion asked him to speak as a gift for Emily, thinking his father’s poetic tribute might provide her some comfort. Orion meets his father’s train and they drive to Boston.
The memorial service is held at MIT’s auditorium, and Jonathan’s mourners mingle with Millstein’s, including Rabbi Zylberfenig. Orion, looking for comfort, touches Sorel’s hand for just a moment. Molly sees and wonders but does not have the opportunity to ask him about it as Emily and her family arrive. Jess and Orion try to protect Emily from the curiosity and awe around her. Chaya Zylberfenig watches the sisters with interest and then re-introduces herself to Jess and asks if the girls have any relatives named Gould. Jess says her mother’s maiden name was either Gold or Gould, and Chaya, the youngest of nine children, knows her suspicions are true: Gillian was her older sister, Gittel, who ran away when Chaya was just a baby. The service begins before Jess can respond.
During the service, Jess considers what this news might mean if it were true. The tributes are moving and everyone is tearful—everyone but Emily. When Dave hints at Jonathan’s latest project, Emily realizes that Jonathan stole and developed Alex Zaslovsky’s idea, the one she confided in him. As Steiner recited his eulogy in poem, Emily rises and walks out; she blames herself for Jonathan’s perfidy and wonders what Zaslovsky, who is working on the original project (Verify), will think when he hears this news. Jonathan was right; Emily is just like him. Though he betrayed her, she betrayed Zaslovsky first: “These ideas spread through her body like poison.”
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 504
That night Jess accuses her father of keeping the secret about her mother’s identity and she wants to tell Emily immediately. Bach believes Emily has already suffered enough traumatic news. Her father does not see the revelation that the girls now have family—Jewish aunts and uncles, including the Zylberfenigs and the Helfgotts—as being particularly earth-shattering and says it was not his secret to tell. Gillian did not want her daughters to have any contact with “those people.”
It is emotional for Bach to tell Jess that when Gillian married him, a non-Jew, her family sat in mourning for seven days and then declared her officially dead to them. She wanted to be free to make her own choices, including whom she wanted to marry and which career she would pursue. “She associated those people with pain,” but Jess insists Bach could have told his daughters. Bach agreed with Gillian’s decision not to tell the girls about them. From his perspective, the Bialystoks are “warm and welcoming to everyone outside, but they have another attitude toward those within the fold, and that attitude is repressive.”
Jess raises her voice, insisting that it could not have been her mother’s last wish that Bach conceal Gillian’s true identity from her daughters. Jess tries to get him to understand that who a person was “fits inside” who a person is. Upstairs, Emily hears the entire conversation.
For those closest to Jonathan and Mel Millstein, there was no comfort in the memorial service; that service was for others’ comfort. Barbara Millstein sleeps as much as she can to avoid her pain. Right after Millstein’s tragic death, Rabbi Zylberfenig had come over and covered all the mirrors in her house, according to Jewish tradition. Now Barbara’s young adult children think the rabbi should not be in their house because their father would not have liked it. Barbara does not scold them for their selfishness or for ganging up on her; she simply says their father would have wanted her to do whatever helps her deal with her grief.
Orion is grieving and angry at the loss of his friend and at the usurpation of his program by ISIS and the government. He finally announces to Molly that he is leaving ISIS, and this begins their final argument. Molly has been waiting for Orion for the past six years, but he no longer wants to talk to her or even look at her. All he wants to do is run away, and he has been doing that for quite a long time. She accuses him of leaving her for the girl she saw at the memorial (Sorel), but her accusations do not frighten Orion and he leaves.
He has to work very hard to wake a drunk, sleepy Sorel, but he is finally able to tell her he is leaving ISIS and Molly. He promises to support whatever ventures are ahead of her, and Sorel joyously invites him into her arms and house.
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Emily sits in the sunroom and thinks: “Jonathan had concealed his plans for the future, and Gillian had concealed her past.” Emily had loved them both and now she feels “entirely alone.” She wonders if she really loved Jonathan and how her mother could have written about the future even as she hid her past. Emily has always assumed people will treat her the way she treats them, but she sees now that there is no evidence to believe this is true. Even worse, she wonders about her own motives for gifting Jonathan with a Veritech secret. “Bewildered, adrift in her father’s house, she tries to find a way forward.”
In the morning Emily sends an email resigning from Veritech, explaining the events of the last month have made it impossible for her to stay there. She offers no excuses and no confessions. Emily tells her father he has to tell them everything, from the beginning. For Bach, Gillian’s life began when they met in college. He does not know how to explain to his daughters that Gillian’s life truly did not begin until she left her family and came to Cambridge. After they married and came to America, his family became hers.
That afternoon the girls go to see Chaya Zylberfenig; Bach refuses to go with them. Chaya welcomes them warmly but cannot tell them anything new about Gillian because she was so young when Gillian left. She tells the girls about the rest of the family; for two hours, Chaya talks and Emily types and feverishly asks questions. Zylberfenig comes in for lunch and is not at all surprised to learn that the Bach girls are his nieces. Emily frenetically scans pictures and sends emails contacting all their new relatives. She wants to go to London with Jess and hopes to find something of her mother’s, though Jess warns her that is unlikely.
Emily spent her first weeks of grieving being small; now she asserts herself and dismisses any opposition. Bach is afraid “those people” will take advantage of Emily for her money. Jess calls Friedman to tell him that she has to go to London with Emily. Friedman misses her so much (she has already been gone for a month) that he imprudently tells Jess he does not care about Emily.
Emily “returns to life” as she prepares to go to London. To Emily, this new and unexpected family is a gift, but Jess prefers her mother’s past to remain a mystery. She calls Sandra McClintock and apologizes for dropping unexpected information on her. Sandra tells Jess that Friedman reassessed the cookbook collection and sent her another check, doubling his purchase price and donating more to save some Sequoias. Emily learns that Jess loves Friedman; she is dubious but tells Jess that if she loves him they should not be apart. She “can’t keep postponing and expect everything to stay the same.” Everything “gets old” when it is deferred, even love.
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George Friedman closes Yorrick’s at five o’clock after a slow afternoon. He feels “worn, tired, cranky, old.” On his drive home up into the hills, he feels as if the transmission in his Mercedes is going out. When he parks his car, the young deer which is eating his lawn flowers does not even look up at him.
He collects his mail before climbing the house steps and unlocking his door. He notices a battered pair of running shoes on the mat next to the door, and his heart begins to pound. Friedman enters the dining room and sees Jess sitting at the head of the table with cookbooks spread out all around her. He wants to talk to her, but she wants to read him something from her essay first. Her observations stem from her study of the cookbooks as well as philosophy, and she writes about the changes in the availability of ingredients over the past few centuries. In her article, Jess notes that desire leads to expectation and, in turn, expectation fosters desire.
Finally Friedman and Jess are back together. Freidman kneels at Jess’s feet and rests his head in her lap. She runs her fingers through his hair and explains that Emily talked her out of going to London with her. Emily still believes Friedman is too old for Jess, that the lovers are at different stages of their lives, and the couple is likely to be seen as a cliché. Friedman does not care at all about any of that.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 494
By spring, the worst of the fear from September 11 has receded and there is a new, more realistic understanding in the technology start-up world. Caution has replaced “razzle-dazzle” and profits are hard-won. No one thinks about going public in the first year, and long-range planning is the norm. Books are written and professors lecture about the old economy, including ISIS and Veritech. ISIS shows itself to be forward-thinking with its ability to “shift priorities with the shifting times,” and Veritech fades into obscurity as ISIS thrives.
The loyal ones who held on to their shares lose the most. Charlie, Veritech’s cook, loses his restaurant; Laura and her family are forced to sell their house at a loss and her husband contemplates returning to school. Dejected, laid-off programmers go back to school to finish their graduate degrees. The few who made a profit on technology stocks are traveling, pursuing their passions and philanthropy. Jake and Oskar go back to MIT. Jonathan set up a trust fund for his younger brothers and everything else he has is invested in ISIS stock.
Barbara Millstein is comfortably set for the rest of her life. She upsets her children by founding the Melvin H. Millstein Center for Jewish Life in her former mansion where the Zylberfenigs are raising their seven children. Barbara and the Zylberfenigs reflect on God’s intricate designs even in sad and destructive things. On the day of the center’s dedication, Chaya Zylberfenig’s niece Jessamine Bach marries George Friedman. The service is performed by Rabbi Helfgott in the famous Rose Garden of Berkeley, California.
The wedding is small but beautiful. Emily and her father walk Jess down the aisle, and Friedman is amazed that his dream has come true. Jess’s New Jersey aunts are in attendance, but Friedman sees no one but his beautiful bride. Friedman wants this moment to last, but he also cannot wait for the ceremony to be over; Jess appreciates the beauty of the Jewish ceremony and wants to remember everything. Helfgott’s blessing of the couple is beautiful, but all Bach hears is a “perfectly calibrated crowd-pleasing little sermon.” Despite his cynicism, Bach is well behaved as his wife admonished him to be.
The menu for the reception comes from Tom McClintock and his cookbooks. Emily tells Nick Eberstat about her new company, Geno.type, which is developing online communities to help families stay in contact. Emily is entering the “social-networking space” and is reenergized by this new venture. Though she enjoyed her time in London, the only real thing Emily brought back with her was the business plan for this new company based on her desire to maintain contact with her new-found family. She sold her engagement ring from Jonathan and established the Gillian Gould Bach Research Fund. Though she is not happy like Jess, she still dreams love is possible. Mr. and Mrs. Friedman are exhausted and hold each other as everything else fades away.