This book dazzles by walking a dangerous high tightrope pulled taut between the widely separated poles of the story. The fairy-tale childhood, with its startling yet archetypically resonant improbabilities, has to consort with the hacker realities of the Kurt-based story, which in itself is not overtly unlikely, but still slightly gonzo. But, like the best mashup tunes, Doctorow’s narrative wedges the most consensually disparate elements together into a brilliant whole.
What probably carries the whole project is Doctorow’s deft, deep depiction of his characters. I have to say that he’s never done a better job of limning real people. However weird they are, they are certainly not cardboard or one-dimensional. They all contain the essential pressure points, drives, caprices and emotions that power the folks we encounter every day. Damaged yet striving to survive and do good, Alan and his cohorts demand that we empathize with their human foibles. This essential believability pulls us in, easing our acceptance of any grotesqueries.