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Sweetness #9: A Novel

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Overview

"Funny and moving. After this, nothing will ever taste the same again."—T. C. Boyle

It's 1973, and David Leveraux has landed his dream job as a Flavorist-in-Training, working in the secretive industry where chemists create the flavors for everything from the cherry in your can of soda to the butter on your popcorn.

While testing a new artificial sweetener—"Sweetness #9"—he notices unusual side-effects in the laboratory rats and monkeys: ...

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Sweetness #9

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Overview

"Funny and moving. After this, nothing will ever taste the same again."—T. C. Boyle

It's 1973, and David Leveraux has landed his dream job as a Flavorist-in-Training, working in the secretive industry where chemists create the flavors for everything from the cherry in your can of soda to the butter on your popcorn.

While testing a new artificial sweetener—"Sweetness #9"—he notices unusual side-effects in the laboratory rats and monkeys: anxiety, obesity, mutism, and a generalized dissatisfaction with life. David tries to blow the whistle, but he swallows it instead.

Years later, Sweetness #9 is America's most popular sweetener—and David's family is changing. His wife is gaining weight, his son has stopped using verbs, and his daughter suffers from a generalized dissatisfaction with life. Is Sweetness #9 to blame, along with David's failure to stop it? Or are these just symptoms of the American condition?

David's search for an answer unfolds in this expansive novel that is at once a comic satire, a family story, and a profound exploration of our deepest cultural anxieties. Wickedly funny and wildly imaginative, Sweetness #9 questions whether what we eat truly makes us who we are.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Carmela Ciuraru
…this funny, provocative novel examines the grievous consequences of living in denial about what we eat. The narrative hurtles toward a loopy ending, with the repentant chemist trying to repair the damage he's done and begin life anew.
Publishers Weekly
04/21/2014
Artificial sugar substitutes, chemically crafted flavor enhancers, and unnatural food colorings are trapping Americans in a self-destructive cycle of addiction, suggests Clark in his first novel, a hyperironic, hyperworrisome account of one man’s journey through the processed food industry. The horror begins in New Jersey in 1973, when recent Rutgers food science program graduate David Leveraux goes to work for corporate giant Goldstein, Olivetti and Dark. His first assignment is testing Sweetness #9, a product in development, on rats. The product is eventually approved and put on the market, but as “the Nine” catches on (it’s 180 times as sweet as sugar at a fraction of the cost), lab rats, monkeys, the Leveraux family, political leaders in Washington, and the general American public all show signs of depression, anxiety, dissatisfaction, and self-destruction. David eventually finds another job, but hides his past dealings with Sweetness #9 from his vegan daughter, as well as his fast-food-enthusiast son, until the truth must be told. Clark’s storytelling skill lends credibility to elements like David’s wife running off to Ukraine in search of serenity and a trimmer waistline with a 300-pound life coach/nutritionist, and Sweetness #9 tracing its origins to Hitler’s bunker. The energetic mixture of laughter and revulsion, routine and invention, outrage and dismay, fact and fiction, skewer a food industry that provides neither food nor sustenance and damages us in ways we are just beginning to fathom. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
"Set in the world of fake flavorings, a snappy satire with plenty of bite."O, The Oprah Magazine

"This funny, provocative novel examines the grievous consequences of living in denial about what we eat."New York Times

"Positively fresh and unique.... SWEETNESS #9 is a family story, a corporate thriller and delicious entertainment. It's also very much a social commentary that entices us into taking a closer look at what we eat....High-calorie food for the brain wrapped in a mouth-wateringly delicious morality tale."Chicago Tribune

"Clark's lively and funny debut is set in the world of food flavorists sparring over an artificial sweetener....SWEETNESS #9 convincingly argues that food may be the last truly mass culture we have....A fast-moving, witty satire."Minneapolis Star Tribune

"A scary/funny/tender/thought-provoking novel"St. Paul Pioneer Press

"SWEETNESS #9 is a Trojan Horse of brilliant, social critique hiding in a sugar packet. A dysfunctional family, a fantastic sense of history and presence, dire cultural portents — with so many addictive hooks "Sweetness #9" refuses to be ignored.... Like Gary Shteyngart, Clark writes with bombastic color and satirical sweetness. It's an exciting time for new American authors; Clark uses vantage points towering and small to create a treasure of complex ideas." Austin American Statesman

"If the best social satire makes the bitter pill of truth easier to swallow, SWEETNESS #9 coats it with something better than sugar. This debut novel by Clark shows up our national obsession with instant gratification as both poisonous and desirable, and very, very funny."Boston Globe

"SWEETNESS #9 is as American as an apple pie deep-fried in artificial sugar....This is a story of a man who wants nothing more than the American Dream for himself and his family but has to live with the crushing feeling of being responsible for the decay of the American condition. Though funny, SWEETNESS #9 presents in every way an America tragedy."Boston Herald

"You know how they say you reap what you sow? Well, let's just say Clark's delightfully twisted, funny tale about a man coming to believe that an artificial sweetener he developed is the source of many modern-day troubles will make fans of Sam Lipsyte quite happy."Flavorwire

"Clark takes the Levereaux family to the brink of the absurd and then reels them back to consider the ramifications of a world getting fatter and fatter... Clark turns a dystopian nightmare into a comic romp through the dark side of the American dream.—San Diego City Beat

"Sweetness #9 is a surprisingly gentle story about the passage of time, and Clark leads us through the years to a poignant ending that satisfyingly pulls at the heart. For a story about artificial sweeteners, and trying to understand where to draw the line between the confusion of the head and the gut, it's fully rewarding. Bittersweet, even."—Minnesota Monthly

"Sweetness #9 hits that seriously sweet spot between speculative and literary fiction—the place where writers like Margaret Atwood live. Put this on the must-read list."—Sacramento News and Review

From the Publisher
"Funny and moving. After this, nothing will ever taste the same again."--T.C. Boyle

"Sweetness #9 does for flavor science and its sweetly dangerous concoctions what White Noise did for chemical transportation and airborne toxic events--that is, makes them real enough to produce legitimate anxiety and funny enough to make you fall off the couch."--Keith Lee Morris, author of The Dart League King

"Sweetness #9 is funny but still human, entertaining but also illuminating, smart but not smug, thought-provoking without lecturing: it's a rare book that does all this at once, and does it so well."--Caitlin Horrocks, author of This Is Not Your City

"A truly gifted writer, Stephan Eirik Clark writes with an inventiveness and artistry that few can match."--Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

"Haunting and hilarious, Sweetness #9 is so compelling that it made me throw the maraschino cherries in the trash and run out to buy organic greens. That's how sucked in I was by Stephan Eirik Clark's sly, bold version of our modern world, where nature and falseness vie for supremacy, and nothing can taste sweet enough, vivid enough, for children intoxicated by the tang of chemicals. This book offers us something amazing, with the startling ring of truth: the fact that not knowing where our food comes from is inexorably linked to not knowing who we are."--Stacey Richter, author of Twin Study

"Sweetness #9 is that rare thing: an intelligent page-turner. Read this book for its whip-smart prose, its thoughtful characters, and its sharp observations about the synthetic (and authentic) aspects of modern life."--Karl Iagnemma, author of On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction

"This debut novel is a hilarious take down of an industry more interested in getting us to buy its products than in selling us good food. Essential for fans of Christopher Buckley's Thank You for Smoking."--Library Journal

"The energetic mixture of laughter and revulsion, outrage and dismay, fact and fiction, skewer a food industry that provides neither food nor sustenance and damages us in ways we are just beginning to fathom."--Publishers Weekly

"All Hail Stephan Eirik Clark! He writes with terrific gusto, insight, and compassion."--Ken Kalfus, author of Equilateral

"A comic novel that brims with insight and imagination. Stephan Eirik Clark casts a sharp eye on our addiction to simple solutions and quick fixes."--Laila Lalami, author of Secret Son"So smart, so funny, and totally entertaining. Nothing on the dinner table escapes Stephan Clark's incisive wit--and that's only the beginning."--Bonnie Nadzam, author of Lamb

From the Publisher
Praise for SWEETNESS #9:
"Funny and moving. After this, nothing will ever taste the same again."--T.C. Boyle
Kirkus Reviews
2014-06-17
A social satire raises spooky questions about food additives."The brain is like the Amazon, Leveraux. Ten steps in and we're lost." So flavorist-in-training David Leveraux is told by his boss when he reveals his worries about the obesity and depression of the animals on whom he's testing a new artificial sweetener, Sweetness #9. The boss explains that as these things go, cancer is easy. Other side effects are "like a scuttling sound on the jungle floor, something that shakes a bush or runs up a tree just moments before you can identify it." That observation is the heart of the first novel by Clark (he's also written a story collection, Vladimir's Moustache, 2012), which will make you nervous about what you eat. Shortly after this conversation, Leveraux is fired and committed to an institution. Then the novel leapfrogs from 1973 to 1998. Leveraux is out of the bin, back in the business and patriarch of a family raised on fake food. Things are not going well: His wife has weight problems, his son has stopped using verbs, and his angry, rebellious daughter is researching an article on food additives. In fact, every character may or may not be showing the depredations of a chemically based diet, and the problem may have originated with experiments in Hitler's bunker. While the plot goes off the deep end, Clark's wit never flags. Of his son Ernest, Leveraux observes, "Churchill once spoke of Russia as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma;...I might describe [Ernest] as a corn dog wrapped inside a slice of pizza stuffed in a Hot Pocket." Of a rival company, Tanko-Shinju: "I've heard [it] translated both as 'pink pearl' and 'two men commit suicide in a coal mine.' "Clever writing balances out the conspiracy theories, but thefictional treatment of this issueleaves readers wondering about thefacts.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316278751
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 8/19/2014
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 38,052
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephan Eirik Clark was born in West Germany and raised between England and the United States. He is the author of the short story collection Vladimir's Mustache. A former Fulbright Fellow to Ukraine, he teaches English at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. This is his first novel.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2014

    Liked it

    Interesting story line and the characters were beleiveable.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2014

    FUN STORY

    Although this is fiction, it comes close to reality and is humor for today's business profiles.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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