Doctorow peppers his novel with technology so palpable you want to order it up on the web. You'll probably get the chance. But technology is not the point here, merely a fascinating, convincing backdrop for the story. It's a really old story, actually -- boy meets girl. What follows is not unexpected, or even particularly new. What is unexpected, shocking even, is how smart Doctorow is when it comes to the human heart, and how well he's able to articulate it.
This novel feels whiz-bang modern, but Doctorow's prose uses the oldest trick in the book -- utterly direct simplicity. Even when he's explaining a sophisticated system of mobile music swapping, Doctorow comes off like a standup comedian. The insights he offers seem obvious, but only in retrospect. He seems smart because he makes the reader feel smart. When Doctorow talks, when Art argues, we just get it. There's nothing between the language and the meaning. The prose is funny, simple and straightforward. This is a no-bullshit book.
While some might consider Doctorow a booster for the online, wired lifestyle, his books contain subtle but pointed warnings about the flaws of high tech societies. Being a Tribalist, living out of circadian synch with the people around you, relating with people you mainly know as a handle on a screen, encourages paranoia and disloyalty, smartness instead of happiness. Art becomes an object lesson in how such a society can ruin a person, and his salvation doesn’t lie in technology.