... affecting, enlightening and cutting-edge ... Nguyen...continually lightens the atmosphere with his wry humor ... Funny and sad, smart and wise, completely of the moment, this is a book you want to read.
Though it doesn’t quite stick the landing, New Waves, the first novel by Kevin Nguyen...cleverly conjures a modern Gatsby-and-Nick-Carraway dynamic between the narrator, Lucas, and his co-worker Margo ... As with any novel featuring a distant object of idolatry, this one succeeds only to the extent that Margo is worth getting to know ... It’s exciting to see the workplace novel making a literary comeback...treating drudgery with a life-giving drollness. Nguyen’s own attempts to infuse New Waves with politics, heart and reality are admirable. He captures beautifully the subtle strains of being disenfranchised, poor and lonely in New York.
New Waves manages to be both knowing and cutting, a satire of internet culture that is also a moving portrait of a lost human being ... The strength of the novel is that he has something more expansive in his sights [than allegory] ... New Waves is also fallible in places; it can push too many hot buttons (a subplot on HR and workplace harassment feels especially tacked on), and Nguyen doesn’t know how to wrap it up. But that too is consistent with the ethos of the internet.
Nguyen shepherds the growth of his sloppy protagonist, and the private, lonely life he leads as someone in mourning, with depth, understanding, and self-awareness ... Nguyen’s work as a longtime editor....shines through in his writing, with storytelling kept close to the ground, an eye for detail that enhances and doesn’t overcrowd, and plotting that turns subtly enough to keep the prose moving ... While dissecting racial transgressions and identity, Nguyen lets his characters grow in their self-awareness when it comes to overstepping or overlooking bias, consistently reinforcing the idea that it takes effort to recognize one’s innate prejudices, and that not everyone is equally aware ... Nguyen’s ambitious debut is a mash-up of reflection, growth, and rumination on death. In a world that seems increasingly chaotic and divided, Nguyen offers a refuge with his humble, distinct take on race relations in America, and smart analysis of the ways technology shape our personal and public lives.
Kevin Nguyen’s debut novel, New Waves, upends tropes of this genre and satirizes the self-important culture of 'startup bros' ... Technology, as demonstrated by Nguyen, often reproduces and amplifies existing systems of oppression ... Though the stage is set for a thriller, this is a novel of grievances—social, cultural and personal ... By dramatizing decisionmaking processes of investors and CEOs, Nguyen convincingly shows how technologies considered 'neutral' can, in fact, reflect bias ... Despite this abundance of modes, the overall style is dry and straightforward. In the absence of style and the red herring of criminal intrigue, what propels the novel forward is its easy readability and cactus-sharp wit. Nguyen is at his best when parroting startup speak, punched up with democratic aspirations, and exposing the Catch-22 logic of tech investors and executives.
... effervescent ... Readers seeking a more linear plot may feel unstable as New Waves bounces between these many storylines, but readers deeply immersed in our increasingly tech-savvy environment will delight in Nguyen’s piercing take on race and gender issues in the workplace, and the ethical debates swirling around social media sites. It’s all delivered with Nguyen’s personal brand of penetrating, acerbic humor.
... the novel does explore racism in much the same way Uncanny Valley does sexism ... However, Nguyen wisely eschews either of those more logical endpoints to focus on loss. Lucas is a lonely customer service worker, whose only real friend dies tragically and seemingly without explanation. Subtly, the story shifts from the intrigue of the opening moments to something more contemplative ... And though death dominates the proceedings, New Waves itself is a novel that is very much alive ... the novel isn’t concerned with giving answers to the problems it poses; it would have been too clean to provide a logical set of circumstances for Margo’s death, or to have Lucas find himself in some way to help him move on. Sometimes, most times even, you have to move on while answers evade you.
...[a] pensive, downbeat debut ... Mr. Nguyen is insightful and precise about the particular kind of emptiness that can infect the tech world, where actual people have less value than the user data they represent ... But the atmosphere of pointlessness, however finely observed, derails the storytelling. Subplots are introduced—such as the cybercrime Lucas and Margo collude on at the start of the novel—and then simply drift away like forgotten ideas. It isn’t just Lucas who misses Margo; Mr. Nguyen doesn’t seem quite sure what to do without her.
If a Venn diagram highlighted the overlaps among racism, sexism, technology, and millennial ennui, Nguyen’s edgy novel would be smack–dab at the center ... If at times the send-up of tech-bro culture feels familiar, Nguyen has created a distinctive, ace, and surprisingly sad critique of just how real the dichotomy is between our true selves and the ones drowned in the wash of technology.
Nguyen’s stellar debut is a piercing assessment of young adulthood, the tech industry, and racism ... Nguyen impressively holds together his overlapping plot threads while providing incisive criticism of privilege and a dose of sharp humor. The story is fast-paced and fascinating, but also deeply felt; the effect is a page-turner with some serious bite.
Nguyen...has a keen eye for satire. He illuminates how "lean" startup companies led by young white men with little management experience manufacture crises only to dodge responsibilities to their users and staff ... Running alongside the dystopian horrors of Nguyen's workplace satire are the warmth and humor, sadness and vulnerability of Lucas' and Margo's voices. Using text messages, voicemails, message board posts, and short story snippets, Nguyen's novel spirals inward to capture the hang-ups, cultural obsessions, and fuzzy ambitions of his characters. ... A blistering sendup of startup culture and a sprawling, ambitious, tender debut.