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The Metaphysical Touch

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To Emily Piper (known as Pi) philosophy means a safe, hushed place where people talk about important things. Pi is a homeless philosopher, whereas JD is a Hamlet looking for his Horatio as he threatens suicide on the Internet. This is a complex story of love between two people who have not yet met.
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In an appealingly loose and intelligent style, first novelist and short story writer Brownrigg (Ten Women Who Shook the World) charts a very modern romance, with rounded characters tentatively making their way to love and enlightenment via the Internet. In 1992, when the Internet is a novelty, Emily Piper (Pi) is a graduate student in philosophy who retreats to Mendocino, Calif., after an earthquake-related fire destroys her Berkeley apartment, her dissertation-in-progress and her cat. Hoping to get her bearings, she moves into a summer house with Abbie, an acquaintance in the middle of a divorce, and her young daughter. Meanwhile, in Manhattan, computer technician JD Levin is writing his so-called dieryan account of his suicidal depression in the wake of losing his joband posting it on a discussion group, where it soon attracts a flurry of comments. Full of mordant quips and neurotic observations (plus endearing references to his dog), the voice of the diery is so distinctive its almost animate. Eventually, Pi plugs into the Internet and gets so involved in the diery that she starts corresponding with JD. At first Pi is wary and cool, and JD is seemingly asexual, but their correspondence becomes increasingly intimate. But Pi, who has what she calls sapphic undercurrents, has an affair with Abbie, and JD departs the East Coast for L.A. When Pi realizes that she cant locate him on screen, she decides to search for him, but the timing couldnt be worse: the Rodney King verdict has just been announced and the city is in flames. Brownrigg has Nora Ephrons ability to make romance seem a complex affair of both the heart and the head, and she adds a dimension of adroit philosophizing about the purpose of life and the possibilities of love in a world where emotional isolation seems sensible and self-protective. Her grip on her characters psychologies and flair for breezy, seductive narrative will have readers as magnetically addicted to this book as its characters are to their e-mail, and her rich atmospheric detail about Northern California could cause a small tourist boomlet there. (June)

This first novel from the author of Ten Women Who Shook the World (Bks. Britain, 1997) was released in Britain last year. Pi, a graduate student in philosophy, loses everythingÄincluding her nearly completed dissertationÄin the 1991 Berkeley fire. Devastated, she quits school and moves to Mendocino to live with Abbie, the aunt of a friend, and take care of Abbie's daughter, Martha. She starts cruising the then-new Internet on a loaned computer and discovers a document termed a "Diery," the suicidal ramblings of someone named JD. Eventually, she corresponds with JD directly, and their E-mail conversations seem to cheer him while helping Pi reconnect emotionally with the world. Along the way we learn more than we need to about JD's pets and friends and Pi's bisexual love life. But Brownrigg's ambitious story doesn't really hang together, and JD's suicidal bent never seems real, eitherÄhe's too glib and has too many resources. Readers looking for a cohesive narrative will be frustrated by the pages of chatty E-mail messages that pass for plot development. For larger fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/99.]ÄReba Leiding, James Madison Univ., Harrisonburg, VA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

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