Two must-read satirical summer novels.

By Seija Rankin
July 08, 2021 at 12:53 PM EDT
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The Startup Wife, Embassy Wife
Credit: Scribner; Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Startup Wife by Tahmima Anam

"Dating you is like dating a StairMaster," Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) tells Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) in The Social Network, David Fincher's 2010 biopic of the once-messianic founder. Tahmima Anam's novel The Startup Wife is, essentially, what happens when you give Erica her full due: the story of an epic rise and fall, told by the woman who wakes up with the messiah every morning.

Asha Ray, the daughter of Bengali immigrants, marries her high school crush, Cyrus Jones, two months after they reconnect at a former teacher's funeral. He is a spirit guide inventing rituals cobbled together from different religions, including hosting the funeral where their re-meet-cute went down. Together, they create a social media platform dedicated to providing those rituals for occasions both typical (burials, anniversaries) and bizarre (cat baptisms). It's an instant hit, but as their membership — and Cyrus' fame — swells, Asha begins to resent the absurdities of the start-up industry and the way their mutual success has somehow marginalized her at home and at work.

There's delicious humor in Asha's subtly savage takedowns of the Silicon Valley system — the start-up with trampolines for floors, the VC who drinks birch water, the bubble-gum-pink girlboss aesthetic at female founder symposiums — but the novel's biggest strengths show as Anam deftly explores the gender politics of the book's central partnership. As Asha finds herself disillusioned, the reader finds someone to root for. (In bookstores July 13)

Grade: B

Embassy Wife by Katie Crouch

From its cover, Katie Crouch's Embassy Wife looks like a frothy summer read. But this is a devilishly au courant satire that skewers white privilege and colonialism. The novel's wives live in Namibia—on compounds of varying degrees of luxury — and send their children to the prestigious Windhoek International School.

Amanda's husband is an embassy wonk who lured his family to the African country under dangerously false pretenses. Persephone is convinced her spouse secretly works for the CIA, but all anyone can prove is that he's a womanizer. Mila, a Namibian, has the most crooked husband — and the hottest takes on American exceptionalism. As everyone's dirty laundry gets hung out to dry, it's hard to remember why we'd want it clean in the first place. (In bookstores July 13)

Grade: B+

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