A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins, Rob Shapiro
Settled back into the San Francisco singles scene following the implosion of his young marriage just months after the honeymoon, Neill Bassett is going through the motions. His carefully modulated routine, however, is soon disrupted in ways he can't dismiss with his usual nonchalance.When Neill's father committed suicide ten years ago, he left behind thousands of pages of secret journals, journals that are stunning in their detail, and, it must be said, their complete banality. But their spectacularly quotidian details, were exactly what artificial intelligence company Amiante Systems was looking for, and Neill was able to parlay them into a job, despite a useless degree in business marketing and absolutely no experience in computer science. He has spent the last two years inputting the diaries into what everyone hopes will become the world's first sentient computer. Essentially, he has been giving it language-using his father's words. Alarming to Neill-if not to the other employees of Amiante-the experiment seems to be working. The computer actually appears to be gaining awareness and, most disconcerting of all, has started asking questions about Neill's childhood.Amid this psychological turmoil, Neill meets Rachel. She was meant to be a one-night stand, but Neill is unexpectedly taken with her and the possibilities she holds. At the same time, he remains preoccupied by unresolved feelings for his ex-wife, who has a talent for appearing at the most unlikely and unfortunate times. When Neill discovers a missing year in the diaries-a year that must hold some secret to his parents' marriage and perhaps even his father's suicide-everything Neill thought he knew about his past comes into question, and every move forward feels impossible to make.With a lightness of touch that belies pitch-perfect emotional control, Scott Hutchins takes us on an odyssey of love, grief, and reconciliation that shows us how, once we let go of the idea that we're trapped by our own sad histories-our childhoods, our bad decisions, our miscommunications with those we love-we have the chance to truly be free. A Working Theory of Love marks the electrifying debut of a prodigious new talent.
Scott Hutchins, a Truman Capote Fellow in the Wallace Stegner Program at Stanford University, received his MFA from the University of Michigan. His work has appeared in StoryQuarterly, the Rumpus, the New York Times, and Esquire. He currently teaches at Stanford. A Working Theory of Love is his first novel. Rob Shapiro got his professional start as an entertainer doing stand-up in Minneapolis while still in high school (the Children's Theatre Company & School of Minneapolis). As a voice-over artist, he can be heard narrating such audiobooks as the bestselling The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick, Frank: The Voice by James Kaplan, and the fantasy noir Low Town by Daniel Polansky. He performed several seasons of radio comedy on Minneapolis Public Radio and voiced the titular lion in Leo the Lion. Rob is also a musician and composer; with his critically acclaimed band, Populuxe, he has released two CDs-A Foggy Day in Brooklyn and Deep in an American Evening . . .-and the EP, Daphne. He is one half of the Velvet Collar, who released their first record, Double Standard, an unlikely collection of cover songs by the Stooges, Hoagy Carmichael, and the Gershwin Brothers, among others, in 2011. Finally, Rob is a business consultant and software system designer, specializing in desktop publishing and workflow efficiency, with clients and implemented systems spanning the globe.
A Working Theory of Love 3.9 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
Scott Hutchins' debut novel starts out with elements of the absurd but he tells it without blinking, with such a steady tone and an even hand that (eventually) drew me in. Neill Bassett is a thirty-something divorced man living in San Francisco who could best be described as listless and probably a little depressed. His job is to help develop a natural sounding language software to allow a semi-sentient computer to converse with humans, using the extensive diaries of his late father as a teaching tool. Thus, Neill converses with a computer that uses the words of his dead father to answer back to him (thus the element of absurdity). But Hutchins doesn't treat this so much as an exercise in absurdity (as, say, Douglas Addams would) as a semi-realistic metaphor. Neill has trouble connecting with real humans and even with himself, but his understanding of humanity comes from a computer. Neill's father wasn't able to sort out his own emotional life (he committed suicide) but is, in a way, able to connect with his son posthumously through his diaries (albeit in a computer voice). The logistics of this sort of language software research probably isn't very realistic, but the important story is that of the humans not the technology.
I loved this book, but for a lot of the same reasons that other people didn't like it, so I feel I should explain. The character of Neill is a little hard to connect to. He's mopey, he's passive, he's not fully engaged in the world. But that's the point. It's his journey that is the real story. In tone, it reminded me a little bit of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, even though I despised that book. I guess it's just a matter of taste. While I found the characters in Franzen's (incredibly popular) novel so unlikable that I couldn't enjoy his literary efforts, there was something in Hutchins' melancholic characters that resonated with me. It's a book that I was glad I stuck with.
Plus it was fun to spend some time (albeit from my armchair) in San Francisco, a fascinating city that I have never visited but love reading about.
More than 1 year ago
There is no huge action in this novel. I guess it’s something of a character study, largely taking place in the main character’s head. He’s basically a good guy that was messed up by his father’s suicide. He’s not quite sure how to love or how to be in a relationship. The story is about a software company, using the guy’s conservative dad’s extensive personal journals as the basis for an artificial intelligence program. An attempt to create the first thinking computer. The guy is hired to interact with the computer program in an attempt to help “bring it to life.” The book is interesting in that it causes you to ponder what the nature of love is, and what matters in life. While these are deep topics, the book doesn’t really analyze them deeply. I enjoyed the book for what it is.
Michael Travis Jasper, Author of the Novel “To Be Chosen”