Reviews for Generosity: An Enhancement

by Richard Powers

Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

About halfway into Powers's follow-up to his National Book Award-winning The Echo Maker, a Nobel Prize-winning author, during a panel discussion, talks about how "genetic enhancement represents the end of human nature.... A story with no end or impediment is no story at all." This then, is a story with both. Its hero, at least initially, is Russell Stone, a failed author of creative nonfiction turned reluctant writing instructor who cannot help transmitting to his students something of his flagging faith in writing. One of them, a Berber Algerian named Thassadit Amzwar, is so possessed by preternatural happiness that she's nicknamed "Miss Generosity" by her prematurely jaded classmates and has emerged from the Algerian civil war that claimed the lives of her parents "glowing like a blissed out mystic." After Stone learns that Thassadit may possess a rare euphoric trait called hyperthymia, her condition is upgraded from behavioral to genetic, and Powers's novel makes a dramatic shift when Thassadit falls into the hands of Thomas Kurton, the charismatic entrepreneur behind genetics lab Truecyte, whose plan to develop a programmable genome to "regulate the brain's set point for well-being" may rest in Miss Generosity's perpetually upbeat alleles. Much of the tension behind Powers's idea-driven novels stems from the delicate balance between plot and concept, and he wisely adopts a voice that is-sometimes painfully-aware of the occasional strain ("I'm caught... starving to death between allegory and realism, fact and fable, creative and nonfiction"). Like Stone and Kurton, Powers strays from mere record to attempt an impossible task: to make the world right. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*Starred Review* Powers' intellectually challenging approach found its perfect synthesis with storytelling in the National Book Award-winning Echo Maker (2006). Restless, he tinkers with the formula here. In a reasonable simulacrum of Chicago, Russell Stone makes his way to a creative nonfiction course he's teaching despite his own resolution never to write another personal essay. One of his students, Thassadit Amzwar, is a young Algerian refugee whose joyousness is so bountiful that Stone wonders whether she suffers from hypomania: How can someone who's suffered so much possibly be happy? Stone consults Candace Weld, a counselor, who's less worried; the three of them form a triangle whose strength is sorely tested during coming events. A chance remark turns Amzwar into a scientific subject, then a cause célèbre, then the answer to a question: Can even perfect happiness survive our desperate need to quantify, commodify, and own it? Powers considers, too, the evolutionary needs of the mind, our reasons for being and odds of survival, and the role of fiction in a nonfiction world. In fact, the story is told at a remove, by a narrator both remembering and creating the story. But even as he calls our attention to the artifice of his efforts, Powers still engages us emotionally a peculiar feeling as we ponder our own brains' need for narrative. If this doesn't have the haunting resonance of The Echo Maker, it almost seems that way by design. But it's another tremendous accomplishment from a writer who sees his species with brilliant, uncomfortable clarity.--Graff, Keir Copyright 2009 Booklist

Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Algerian refugee Thassadit Amzwar has witnessed a great deal of violence in her young life, yet she radiates joy. Now attending college in Chicago, she meets Russell Stone, writing instructor and all-around slump of a guy, who is fascinated by Thassadit's glowing countenance. After consulting with campus counselor (and eventual love interest) Candace Weld, Stone theorizes that Thassadit may be the carrier of a gene that produces happiness. Once the story makes its way to the media, all hell breaks loose. The cheerful refugee is publicly sanctified, vilified, and sought after-especially by genome companies that want to market her genetic good fortune. Offering some very meaty ethical issues, this fast-paced, science-laden story offers each character a chance to become heroic in his or her own way. Verdict Intelligent, thought-provoking, multilayered, and emotionally engaging, this follow-up to Powers's National Book Award winner, The Echo Maker, astonishes with its depiction of our annoying cultural habit of creating, exalting, and disposing of celebrities within the span of a few minutes. Master storyteller Powers has a keen eye for the absurdity of modern life. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/09.]-Susanne Wells, P.L. of Cincinnati & Hamilton Cty. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.