Synopses & Reviews
"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.
"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." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"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
About 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.