In his provocative, vibrant 10th novel, National Book Award winner Richard Powersonce again explores the impact of technology and scientific discovery on our lives.
When melancholic failed writer Russell Stone agrees to teach a creative nonfiction course at a local college, his students confirm his worst fears about the future—in a world where the private is public, writing is becoming less an act of reflection than of exhibitionism. But one student captivates him: Thassadit Amzwar, an Algerian refugee whose unwavering joy earns her the nickname of “Miss Generosity” from her peers. Thinking Thassa may be bipolar, delusional or worse, Russell consults college psychologist Candace Weld, who suggests that Thassa might be “hyperthermic,” or excessively happy.
When Thassa’s exceptional capacity for joy comes to the attention of geneticist-entrepreneur Thomas Kurton—who is on the verge of announcing the genotype for happiness—Russell and Candace are powerless to help her. Thassa finds herself at the center of a raging public debate about genetic modification. Does it signify progress, improving our quality of life as so many scientific advancements have, or will it do away with identity itself? Will it provide even greater advantages to the children of the rich? Will we be testing each other’s DNA in job interviews, and before we get married, to figure out just what it is we’re getting into? Heralded by some as a living prophecy and derided by others for her role in ending human nature as we know it, Thassa begins to bend and break under the strain, changing the lives of those around her forever.
Though at times Generosity feels overly deliberate—it’s no secret that the book is carefully organized around a particular ideological debate—it is never didactic. While Kurton may seem the obvious villain, he is guilty of nothing but exuberance, and of belief in that greatest and most basic of human narratives: “that the future will be slightly better than the present.” The beauty of this book lies in Powers’ ability to capture human passion—for art, for scientific discovery and for one another.
Lindsey Schwoeri is an Assistant Editor at the Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.