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Generosity: An Enhancement by Richard Powers
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Generosity: An Enhancement (2009)

by Richard Powers

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I loved Gold Bug Variations and liked Galatea 2.2, both for their geekiness. Generosity has similar elements, but diluted geekiness; the science is mood rather than mind, a specific set of genes rather than an abstract code.

Russell Stone is a writer, or was a writer until a series of essays had repercussions. With career derailed, and a demoralizing job editing inspirational stories for a self-actualization magazine, he takes a temporary position teaching a creative non-fiction course at an art college in Chicago. The students are mostly stock characters, but one has the title role: Thassadit Amzwar, nicknamed Miss Generosity for her exuberant, expansive, embracing personality. She reveals through assignments that she is a refugee from Algeria, dislocated and orphaned during civil war. A prime candidate for PTSD, she seems instead not merely unaffected but blissful.

Russell is concerned enough about the disconnect to seek advice from college psychologist Candace Weld. The word hyperthymia is uttered, and in a local report of a campus incident the word gets out. It is caught by the news filter of a scientist whose startup company researches genetic correlations with traits. A battery of tests and a journal article later, it is amplified in a TV interview: anonymous subject C3-16f holds the genetic key to happiness. Then in a student blog the word is linked to the name, Oona (more Os than Oprah) swoops in, and the pursuit of happiness goes viral. Thassa is bombarded by requests for her presence, her help, her secret, her eggs.

I had a bunch of problems with the book. #1 is what’s so great about happiness? #2 is Algeria; I doubt I’m uniquely ignorant among readers, and the historical facts were barely sketched, so it serves more to accessorize Thassa with exotic charm. #3 is the narrator, writing about writing the novel, an underdeveloped metalayer of creative non-fiction. The combined consequence was emotional distance, not much visceral response to the plot. And as noted above, not much intellectual response either. Oh well. An OK book with appealing moments and people, just didn’t really grab hold.
  qebo | Aug 7, 2014 |
Uhmmmm...gorgeously written but so unbelievably rich it kept putting me to sleep, of all things. So I want to give it a high rating for quality but I gotta say it's extremely literary (for when you want to get your academia/intelligentsia on). ( )
  eenerd | Jul 30, 2014 |
Excellent (and challenging) book with big ethics overtones... community college student who is always happy and generous -- scientist interested in finding and cloning the "happiness gene" -- is she being used? ( )
  DavidO1103 | Dec 15, 2013 |
A masterful novel that provides a fresh perspective on age-old questions of nature vs nurture. While Powers is as enamored as ever by the potential of science edge genetics and neuroscience to define and guide us toward a better life, his novel ultimately makes a brilliant and persuasive case for more traditional sources of human happiness - narrative, meaning, and compassion. ( )
  JFBallenger | Jan 23, 2013 |
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At times, one can’t help wondering if Powers’s sympathies, and his sensibilities, lie entirely in the scientific camp — if he doesn’t perhaps agree with Thomas Kurton’s critique of fiction, rejecting “the whole grandiose idea that life’s meaning plays out in individual negotiations.” But Powers is, when he chooses to be, an engaging storyteller (though he would probably wince at the word), and even as he questions the conventions of narrative and character, “Generosity” gains in momentum and suspense. In the end, he wants to have it both ways, and he comes very close to succeeding.
 
Powers is a brilliantly imaginative writer, working here with a lightness of touch, a crisp sense of pace, and a distinct warmth. What's more, this is real literature—so we know happiness can't last. In unfolding his inevitable outcome, Powers shows both his reach as a student of humanity and his mastery as a storyteller.
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374161143, Hardcover)

FROM THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD–WINNING AUTHOR OF THE ECHO MAKER, A PLAYFUL AND PROVOCATIVE NOVEL ABOUT THE DISCOVERY OF THE HAPPINESS GENE

When Chicagoan Russell Stone finds himself teaching a Creative Nonfiction class, he encounters a young Algerian woman with a disturbingly luminous presence. Thassadit Amzwar’s blissful exuberance both entrances and puzzles the melancholic Russell. How can this refugee from perpetual terror be so happy? Won’t someone so open and alive come to serious harm? Wondering how to protect her, Russell researches her war-torn country and skims through popular happiness manuals. Might her condition be hyperthymia? Hypomania? Russell’s amateur inquiries lead him to college counselor Candace Weld, who also falls under Thassa’s spell. Dubbed Miss Generosity by her classmates, Thassa’s joyful personality comes to the attention of the notorious geneticist and advocate for genomic enhancement, Thomas Kurton, whose research leads him to announce the genotype for happiness.

Russell and Candace, now lovers, fail to protect Thassa from the growing media circus. Thassa’s congenital optimism is soon severely tested. Devoured by the public as a living prophecy, her genetic secret will transform both Russell and Kurton, as well as the country at large.

What will happen to life when science identifies the genetic basis of happiness? Who will own the patent? Do we dare revise our own temperaments? Funny, fast, and finally magical, Generosity celebrates both science and the freed imagination. In his most exuberant book yet, Richard Powers asks us to consider the big questions facing humankind as we begin to rewrite our own existence.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:58:46 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

When Chicagoan Russell Stone finds himself teaching a Creative Nonfiction class, he encounters a young Algerian woman with a disturbingly luminous presence. Thassadit Amzwar's blissful exuberance both entrances and puzzles the melancholic Russell. How can this refugee from perpetual terror be so happy? Won't someone so open and alive come to serious harm? Wondering how to protect her, Russell researches her war-torn country and skims through popular happiness manuals. Might her condition be hyperthymia? Hypomania? Russell's amateur inquiries lead him to college counselor Candace Weld, who also falls under Thassa's spell. Dubbed Miss Generosity by her classmates, Thassa's joyful personality comes to the attention of the notorious geneticist and advocate for genomic enhancement, Thomas Kurton, whose research leads him to announce the genotype for happiness.… (more)

» see all 4 descriptions

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