Synopses & Reviews
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.
"In Stegner Fellow Hutchins's ambitious debut novel, the writings of Dr. Neill Bassett, who committed suicide in 1995 and kept extensive diaries for two decades, form the basis of a linguistic project to create the first software program to process natural language. Though the doctor's son, Neill Jr., is not a programmer, he's the only native English speaker at Amiante, the tiny three-man tech firm taking on the task, and his job entails humanizing the program so that it responds like a real person rather than a computer. During the course of the project, the emotionally distant Neill, a divorced 36-year-old living in San Francisco who thinks of himself as 'an experienced practitioner at the art of falling apart on the inside while appearing catatonic,' becomes involved with Rachel, a 20-year-old member of a cultlike group that employs questionable methods to engage its members. The relationship never sizzles because Rachel remains a cipher, but Neill's interactions with the software, which becomes more and more a stand-in for his dead father, and a rival software developer's provocative end-use plans for a successful Bassett-like program, create intriguing ethical dilemmas and force Neill out of his indifference. Neill's unusual 'one-on-one' with the program is revelatory and exciting. Agent: Bill Clegg, WME Entertainment." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"A brainy, bright, laughter-through-tears, can't-stop-reading-until-it's-over kind of novel. Fatherless daughters, mother-smothered sons, appealing ex-wives, mouthy high school drop-outs — damn, this book's got something for everyone!" Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story and Absurdistan
"Scott Hutchins's wonderful new novel is right on the border of what is possible: a computer is programmed to be the reincarnation of the narrator's dead father, and the narrator, a charming thirty-something American, learns what it is to be human and to love. The book is brilliantly observant about the way we live now, and its comic and haunting story will stay lodged in the reader's memory." Charles Baxter, author of The Feast of Love
"Scott Hutchins is a wonderfully original new voice, and his important and perceptive novel, A Working Theory of Love, reads like what would happen if Walker Percy's moviegoer woke up as a computer programmer in sexually 'enlightened' San Francisco. It's about artificial intelligence, a man trying to resurrect his dead father, and the quest for romance in a world of one night stands. Mostly, though, it's about love in all its forms: between man and woman, man and parent, man and city, and man and machine. But the love that makes this book a marvel is for the English language itself: every sentence in Hutchins's sparkling debut is priceless." Eric Puchner, author of Model Home and Music Through the Floor
"It takes a genius, a supercomputer, a disembodied voice and a man who's stopped believing to create A Working Theory of Love, Scott Hutchins's brilliantly inventive debut novel. Incandescent with humor and insight, Hutchins's portrait of human longing falls as warm and slant across these pages as a California sunset. Original, wise, full of serious thinking, serious fun, and the shock of the new, this book is astonishing." Adam Johnson, author of Emporium, Parasites Like Us, and The Orphan Master's Son
About the Author
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.