In Sunnyvale, California, in 1979, Jeff Goodell's family lived quietly on Meadowlark Lane, unaware that their town was soon to become ground zero in the digital revolution. Over the course of the next decade, as Silicon Valley boomed, the Goodell family unraveled.
Splintered by their parent's divorce, Jeff and his siblings careen toward self-destruction, while their parents end up on opposite sides of the technological divide: their mother succeeds beyond her wildest dreams at "a small company with a dopey rainbow-colored logo," called Apple, while their father refuses to keep up with the times and loses his landscaping business. Affecting and personal, Sunnyvale is a portrait of one family's fate in a brutally Darwinian world. It is also a thoughtful examination of what has happened to the American family in the face of the technological revolution.
The Silicon Valley bubble burst early for Goodell, who tossed away a plum gig at the pre-IPO Apple Computer to hustle blackjack tables at Lake Tahoe, becoming "the worst-dressed dealer in the state of Nevada." Yet that missed opportunity has been the least of his worries, he relates in this deeply emotional memoir about the ups and downs--mostly downs--of a "suburban American post-divorce, post-nuclear family." The implicit optimism in the name Sunnyvale, the Valley suburb where Goodell grew up in the late 1970s, proves grimly ironic as his father, a failed landscape contractor, dives into an emotional tailspin after a 1979 divorce and eventually succumbs to lung cancer. His mother, meanwhile, suffers scars from a burnt-out marriage she never wanted. The centerpiece of the book is Goodell's "nightmare of co-dependency" with his wildly unstable younger brother, a promising musician who pickled himself with alcohol before he was ravaged by AIDS. Caught in the middle of it all, Goodell describes himself as a vacant lot polluted by family toxins; this memoir is his remediation project, an attempt to sift through the lingering emotional sludge in search of some purifying understanding of the family's implosion. While the high-tech Valley subtext is not without interest (Apple gurus Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak make cameo appearances), Goodell's real subject is the paternal negligence that was carried from father to son through three generations in his family. Now a successful journalist in New York with children of his own, Goodell writes with more raw power than literary polish, ending with a hopeful vow to break the cycle of dysfunctional dads.
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