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Many Are Invited

A housewarming party ends in tragedy. . . Steve Galanos, a native Midwesterner, reflects on his time in Northern California during the 1990s, a time when the two-digit year emerged as the Y2K problem, the burgeoning Internet fueled the expansion of the New Economy, the dot-com bubble created unseen prosperity and real estate frenzies. Yet it’s a housewarming party, held in late 1999, that affects him the most.                                                                                 

At the request of John Goertz, a group of technology managers and executives gather in a conference room. Listening to the presentation is Steve Galanos, who is suspicious of Goertz’s approach and the dramatic way he describes the problem. Goertz tries to convince his audience that a disaster awaits them unless they immediately address the two-digit year in the company’s distributed systems and compiled code. It’s 1994, well before anyone has heard of the term, Y2K.

A promotion to run the newly-created year 2000 compliance program earns John more skepticism and envy from Steve, yet the two have much in common and soon become good friends. A few years later, John leaves for a startup and their lives trend in different directions.

By the time John cashes out from a successful IPO, gets married, and buys a house in Los Gatos, his friendship with Steve has waned. It’s at John’s housewarming party where latent animosity and lingering distrust finally come to a head.

Steve Galanos, a service delivery manager at his phone company in the mid-1990s, is floored by the news that their IT systems may not transition all that smoothly into the year 2000. When he’s assigned as a liaison for the Year 2000 Conversion Team, he finds himself shoulder to shoulder with John Goertz, the only actual team member, and isn’t sure he can stomach working in such close quarters with him. The nature of their work means John holds more power than Steve would like, and Steve’s fairly certain John is only promotion hunting. Despite the odds, the two develop a close, albeit tumultuous, friendship, but when John’s fiancée Mary—and her roommate Lauren—arrive on the scene, everything changes.

From the start, Cuesta (Stuck in Manistique) is a suspenseful storyteller. Though the novel seemingly revolves around the Y2K problem, and John and Steve’s efforts to fix it before it’s too late, the characters’ interactions center on a fateful housewarming party, hosted by Mary, that’s scheduled to take place at the turn of the century—a party to which John, Steve, and Lauren, among others, are invited. But the tension between Steve and John escalates, with Lauren’s destructive impulses accelerating the pressure, and transforms the party into a devastating event.

Cuesta’s characters are richly drawn, with subtle edginess and uncertainty that colors their interactions and builds to an explosive night. Steve alternates between jealousy and admiration of John, and his barely hidden attraction to Mary, coupled with Mary’s suspicions of Lauren, thickens the plot. The Y2K technical lingo is complex, and the constantly evolving—and somewhat contradictory—interplay between the characters will require a suspension of belief at times, but overall, Cuesta deftly captures reader interest, and fans will be hooked on the highly troubled but deeply riveting lives of the main players.

Takeaway: A suspenseful story of tension, betrayal, and destruction.

Great for fans of: The Goodbye House by Lawrence Coates; The Exit Strategy by Lainey Cameron.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: NA
Editing: A
Marketing copy: C

Foreword Clarion Reviews

In Dennis Cuesta’s beguiling and suspenseful novel Many Are Invited, a man fuels a tragedy at a housewarming party at the dawn of the new millennium.

In the present, Steve is plagued by an unspecified trauma that took place more than twenty years ago. Urged by his therapist to write about it, he recounts what happened, reaching back to the 1990s when he worked in IT services for a phone company. Against the backdrop of California’s internet boom and the impending Y2K crisis, Steve details his workplace encounters, including with John, who became something of a friend.

After John moved on to a better job, the men met in neutral spaces; those encounters reveal the tenuous nature of their connection. They shared a competitive streak, but their friendship was based on too little substance beyond this. Neither man knew the range of the other’s thoughts, and they only kept meeting because of loose social reasons.

Such exposures act as a precursor to the men’s fraying trusts, which twist the novel in new directions. John becomes engaged to Mary, and Steve’s envy seeps in. His fleeting attraction to Mary leads to added risks, while Mary’s gorgeous roommate, Lauren, complicates the group’s interactions further with her needling discontent.

Steve’s narration is marked by his dark fixations. He accepts John’s running joke of labeling attractive women as “Swedes,” resulting in several awkward brushes with younger coworkers. He is calculating by nature and admits to unsettling feelings of apathy toward John. Though his flaws are intriguing, his reliability comes into question. And then Lauren’s behavior takes a turn toward the vindictive, adding tension.

Steve’s disclosures about John’s December 1999 party are slow to emerge. He shares them in conversations with others, discussing the layers of John and Mary’s marriage, as well as their simmering hidden rivalries. The couple held grave secrets from each other—a fact that Steve used to his advantage as he shuttled between them, feeding into their hazardous misunderstandings and arranging a pivotal reveal. Still, Steve’s hindsight is limited by his vices, and he meanders his way toward divulging truths without examining his choices in depth. The concluding scenes rush to explain the reasons for Steve’s later isolation.

Part confession and part expiation of a man’s mental burdens, Many Are Invited is a fascinating psychological novel about the disastrous consequences of meddling in the lives of others.