email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
10th Grade202432 Stories4th of July99 DaysA Change in AltitudeA Demon in My ViewA Dream of WolvesA Falling KnifeA Finely Tuned Apathy MachineA Heart of StoneA Life Lived RidiculouslyA Multitude of SinsA Parting GiftA Question of BloodA Quiet PlaceA Red Heart of MemoriesA River SutraA Short History of Tractors in UkrainianA Slight Trick of the MindA Stir of BonesA Thousand Miles from NowhereA Voyage Long and StrangeA Wedding in December About a BoyAbraham LincolnAcross the River and Into the TreesActs of GodActs of InfidelityAfrican PsychoAfter DarkAfter YouAfter You'd GoneAfterwardsAgenda for MurderAliens in the Prime of Their LivesAll Alone in the UniverseAll Families Are PsychoticAll in the MindAll the Way HomeAltered LandAlternatives to SexAmanda's WeddingAmelia RulesAmericaAmerica AmericaAmnesiaAmong the DepartedAn Object of BeautyAngelsAngry Youth Comix #2AnimosityAnne SextonAre You Experienced?Aristotle and Poetic JusticeAristotle DetectiveArlington ParkArtemis FowlAs Hot as It Was You Ought to Thank MeAsking For MurderAsymmetryAtonementAway Laughing on a Fast CamelBabylon and Other StoriesBad BoyBad SeedBag Of BonesBalancing ActsBarbara the Slut and Other PeopleBeach RoadBeat the ReaperBeautiful GirlsBed of RosesBefore I Go to SleepBefore the FrostBeg the QuestionBeginner's GreekBellyBeneath the SkinBenedictionBest New American VoicesBig BrotherBilly and GirlBiteBlack & WhiteBlack HelicoptersBlack Market TruthBlameBlanketsBleed for MeBlind SightBlonde FaithBlood, Salt, WaterBlueprints for Building Better GirlsBody SurfingBoneMan's DaughtersBoneyardBoneyardBoomsdayBorder CrossingBoth Ways Is the Only Way I Want ItBoysBracketBrain TrustBrava, ValentineBreaking Out of BedlamBreathing UnderwaterBrick LaneBridge of SighsBridget JonesBridget Jones's DiaryBrief Interviews with Hideous MenBring Them HomeBruisesBrŁselBullyBurn, Bitchy, BurnButterflyBy BloodBy The Sea ShoreCalled to KillCanadaCanvasCaricatureCase HistoriesCellCemetery DanceChange of HeartChangesChasing the DimeChild 44Cinema PanopticumCinnamon KissCirceCircle NineCity of the LostClay's WayClose toYouClose Your EyesCloud 9 AffairCoincidenceCold CaseCold HitCold in HandCollected StoriesCome Up and See Me SometimeComfort and JoyCompulsionConfessions of a ShopaholicConfessions of an Ex-GirlfriendConsider LoveCouch FictionCrispinCross CountryCruddyCrumpleCutCypherDaddy's GirlsDakotaDamageDancing After HoursDanger in High PlacesDanger! Cross CurrentsDante's PoisonDante's WoodDarkest FearDating Without NovocaineDead BoysDead Canaries Don't SingDead EndDead EvenDeadly AdviceDeadly ButterflyDeadly GambleDeaf SentenceDear American AirlinesDear Zoe,Death of a Department ChairDeath of an AddictDeath with InterruptionsDeath Without TenureDeceitDecemberDeceptionDefending JacobDeliverance From EvilDemonologyDepraved HeartDictatorDisobedienceDisturbing GroundDivine JusticeDivisaderoDixie RoadDon't Wake UpDr. Jekyll & Mr. HydeDriftlessDuplicityEcstasyEmerald City BluesEmpire FallsEmpress of the WorldEnd over EndEven DeadlierEven Dogs in the WildEvenings at FiveEvery Note PlayedEvery Visible ThingEye ContactFacesFaking ItFalling ManFamily and Other CatastrophesFamily HistoryFascinationFat Angie Fear of the DarkFeeling Sorry for CeliaFellsideFeminist Philosophy And Science FictionFever 1793Field of BloodFinal JeopardyFlashpointFlat Lake in WinterFlorid StatesForgive the MoonFortunate SonFortune's RocksFour Blind MiceFour CornersFred the ClownFrom Girls to GrrlzFull DisclosureGallatin CanyonGaudi AfternoonGenerosityGeorgia Under WaterGhost at the WindowGiftedGiganticGirl in TranslationGirl Walking BackwardsGirls Closed InGirls Like UsGod HeadGod Is DeadGod Is Not OneGods and BeastsGoldengroveGone GirlGood and GoneGood GriefGrace, Tamar and Laszlo the BeautifulGuises of DesireHalf In Love With DeathHappiness Sold SeparatelyHappy FamilyHappy Mutant Baby PillsHappy Now?HarleyHarry Potter and the Sorcererís StoneHe Counts Their TearsHeartbeatHeftHell's IslandHey, Wait...High HeatHolidays On IceHope in a JarHot MilkHotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel WorldHotels of North AmericaHouse of JavaHow a Gunman Says GoodbyeHow People ChangeHow to Be GoodHow to Set a Fire and WhyHow to Stop TimeHug MeI Can See YouI Don't Know How She Does ItI'd Know You AnywhereI'm Traveling AloneIf I Fall, If I DieIf You StayImagine Me GoneImposter for HireIn ZanesvilleInfinite JestIngloriousInnocentInnocent WorldInnocentsInspired SleepInvisibleIronshoreIs This What Other Women Feel Too?It Takes OneIt's Love We Don't UnderstandIt's Not Me, It's YouJacob Have I LovedJimmy CorriganJohn Dies at the EndJournal d'une femme adultŤreJust LifeKeeping LucyKhalifahKick the Animal OutKicking the SkyKim: Empty InsideKisscutKissing DoorknobsKissing in AmericaKnife CreekKnockout MouseLambLast Chance SaloonLast NightLaura Numeroff's 10-Step Guide to Living with Your MonsterLawnboyLayoverLeft NeglectedLeisureLeo the Lightning BugLeslie's JournalLet Me Be Frank With YouLie to MeLies My Girlfriend Told MeLife After LifeLife ClassLife Is a Strange PlaceLife of PiLike the Red PandaLike You'd Understand, AnywayLikely to DieLillian in LoveLisa, Bright and DarkLisey's StoryListen to the SilenceLithium for MedeaLittle Black LiesLittle ChildrenLittle LitLittle ScarletLiíl SantaLonerLord of the FliesLosing JuliaLostLost GirlLost in the ForestLost Memory of SkinLove and Shame and LoveLove in the AsylumLove Songs for the Shy and CynicalLovely Green EyesLowboyLucy Sullivan Is Getting MarriedMachines Like MeMade for LoveMagnificenceMaking ScenesMaliceMan and BoyMan in the WoodsManstealing for Fat GirlsMarlenaMary, MaryMercy StreetMerry Christmas, Alex CrossMiddlesexMischlingMisfortuneMissing PresumedMoby DickMomma and the Meaning of LifeMonsterMonths and SeasonsMr. CommitmentMrs. DallowayMrs. FletcherMunich AirportMurder BookMurder in ByzantiumMurder in the InnMusic for TorchingMy AbandonmentMy Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me UpMy Life with CorpsesMy Name Is RedMy Sister's KeeperMystery Time StoriesNasty, Short and BrutalNecessary NoiseNelson Mandela's Favorite African FolktalesNemesisNeuroticaNever Fade AwayNever Let Me GoNew Australian StoriesNew York 2140Night FilmNina: AdolescenceNo One Can Pronounce My NameNo Place to HideNone of the AboveNorth of BeautifulNothing RightNovel About My WifeObjects of My AffectionObservatory MansionsOdd Child OutOdd HoursOddsOh My GothOld SchoolOn Chesil BeachOn the CouchOnce You Go BackOne Flew Over The Cuckoo's NestOne Good TurnOne More WednesdayOne Pill Makes You SmallerOptic Nerve #11Our Souls at NightOutside Looking InOver Tumbled GravesPaint It BlackPanicParadiseParadise LodgeParanoiaParty GirlPeculiaPerfect LivesPharmakonPhobicPianoPictures of YouPilgrim at Tinker CreekPlaying with FirePlea of InsanityPopCoPoppy ShakespearePower SplitPreaching to the CorpsePrepPresumed InnocentProzac HighwayPumping Up NapoleonPurePutneyRachel's HolidayRacing the DevilRadiant CoolRaptors Red SnowReleaseRelentlessRemembrance of Things Past, Vol 1: CombrayRescueReturn to IsisReunion at Red Paint BayRevolting YouthRevolutionary RoadRight LivelihoodsRippleRoomRun DownRun for Your LifeSamaritanSand DollarSaturdaySaturday's ChildSay You Are My SisterSay You're One of ThemSay You're SorrySaying It Out LoudSchopenhauer's TelescopeSearching for Sylvie LeeSeason to TasteSecond LifeSee How SmallSeed of the Dogwood TreeSelf-Portrait with BoySerious GirlsSexyShades of BlueShadow BabyShamelessShatteredShooterShort PeopleShutter IslandShy GirlSigned, Mata HariSilencedSilent CruiseSince You AskSister CrazySister MischiefSisterlandSkin DeepSleeping BeautySleepwalkSlip of the KnifeSmackSmall Avalanches and Other StoriesSmutSnowSo Brave, Young and HandsomeSo LuckySome Thing BlackSometimes It's New YorkSong for EloiseSongs for the MissingSongs Without WordsSounds from the Bell JarSourlandSpeakSpeaking With the AngelSpeed ShrinkingSquirrel Seeks ChipmunkSshhhh!Stealing TimeSteel BreezeStill AliceStill in LoveStill MissingStir-FryStoner & SpazStop PretendingStraight ManStrange FleshStrange Stories for Strange Kids StrayingSummer BlondeSunstrokeSupreme CourtshipSwimmerSwimming Sweet ArrowSwimming to ElbaSwimming with StrangersSworn to SilenceSycamoreSylvia PlathTaking FlightTales of PsychotherapyTalking to AddisonTeaseTell the Truth, Shame the DevilTestimonyThat Old Cape MagicThe DrifterThe 101 Best Graphic NovelsThe 7 Deadly Sins SamplerThe Abortionist's DaughterThe Abstinence TeacherThe AccidentalThe AdultsThe AlienistThe Almost MoonThe Arctic IncidentThe ArrangementThe Artist of DisappearanceThe Austere AcademyThe Average American MarriageThe AwakeningThe Babes in the WoodThe Bad BeginningThe Beach HouseThe Beast of CretaceaThe Beat Goes OnThe Bell JarThe Best AwfulThe Big GirlsThe Big KissThe Big LoveThe Bird HouseThe Bird WomanThe Birthday RiotsThe Bitch PosseThe Blue Moon Erotic Reader IIIThe Blue NotebookThe Boat RockerThe Book of JamaicaThe Book of JoeThe Book of LeedsThe Book of LiesThe Book of LiverpoolThe Book of the DeadThe Bookshop on the ShoreThe Boy at the KeyholeThe BramblesThe Brass VerdictThe Brimstone JournalsThe Burden of ProofThe Cake HouseThe CallingThe Castle in the ForestThe ChemistThe Children ActThe Children of MenThe Christmas TrainThe Christmas WeddingThe ClosersThe Consciousness PlagueThe Conspiracy ClubThe CorrectionsThe CorrectionsThe Covery and ThenThe Cuckoo's CallingThe CureThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeThe Dark HouseThe Dark RoomThe Darkest Evening of the YearThe Day I Ate Whatever I WantedThe Dead Fathers ClubThe Dead Fish MuseumThe Dead HourThe Dead of SummerThe Death of Bunny MunroThe Delight of Being OrdinaryThe DepositionThe Devotion of Suspect XThe Diary of a Teenage GirlThe Disobedience Of The Daughter Of The SunThe Diviner's TaleThe DivinersThe DollmakerThe Double BindThe Dream BearerThe Dressmaker of Khair KhanaThe Dubious Salvation of Jack V.The Dulcimer Boy The Dynamite RoomThe EcstaticThe Education of Mrs. BemisThe Elementary ParticlesThe End Of AliceThe End of EverythingThe End of Mr. YThe Erotic EdgeThe Eternity CubeThe Extinction of DesireThe Female PersuasionThe Field of the DogsThe Fig EaterThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry AugustThe Fortunate OnesThe Gingerbread GirlThe Girl in 6EThe Girl in the GardenThe Girl on Mill StreetThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's NestThe Girl Who Loved Tom GordonThe Girl Who Played with FireThe Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Girl Without a NameThe GirlsThe Good PsychologistThe Great Books Foundation Short Story OmnibusThe Green ParrotThe Grief of OthersThe Grim GrottoThe Guise of AnotherThe Gum ThiefThe Guy Not TakenThe Hearts of MenThe Heretic's DaughterThe HoursThe Housekeeper and the ProfessorThe Ice QueenThe Ice TwinsThe InseparablesThe InterestingsThe IntimatesThe Keeper of Lost CausesThe Keeper of Lost ThingsThe Kindness of StrangersThe Kings of LondonThe Language of SecretsThe Last ChildThe Last MileThe Last PhysicianThe Last PrecinctThe Lay of the LandThe Lincoln LawyerThe Little FriendThe Lost MotherThe Love HexagonThe Lovely BonesThe Lover's DictionaryThe Madonnas of Echo ParkThe Madwoman in the AtticThe Man from BeijingThe Man in My BasementThe Man of My DreamsThe Map of True PlacesThe Marriage PlotThe Master BedroomThe Memory Book The Memory Keeper's DaughterThe Mercy RoomThe Mermaids SingingThe Meursault InvestigationThe Ministry of Special CasesThe MiracleThe Miserable MillThe Missing ProfessorThe Most Dangerous ThingThe MuralistThe Museum of InnocenceThe NarrowsThe New YorkersThe NewleywedsThe Night ListenerThe NixThe Notebook of Lost ThingsThe Obvious ChildThe One With the NewsThe Other Side of the StoryThe Outlaw AlbumThe Particular Sadness of Lemon CakeThe PastThe People of the VeilThe Perfect GirlThe Philosopher's LoverThe Philosophical PractitionerThe Possession of Mr. CaveThe PowerThe Pregnant WidowThe Promise of a LieThe Promised LandThe PyramidThe ReaderThe Red HouseThe Red RoomThe Red ThreadThe ReporterThe Reptile RoomThe Resurrection StoneThe ReturnThe Right MistakeThe RoadThe Rule of FourThe Same Stuff as StarsThe Savage GirlThe ScarecrowThe Schopenhauer CureThe Second GirlThe SecretThe Secret Life of BeesThe Secret of Lost ThingsThe Secret ScriptureThe Secret SpeechThe Secret Wisdom of the EarthThe SharkThe Shock of the FallThe Shutter of SnowThe Silence RoomThe SisterThe Sisterhood of the Traveling PantsThe Sky ChangesThe SnowmanThe Song of the Jade LilyThe SongwriterThe Sorrows of an AmericanThe Sound of Broken GlassThe Speed AbaterThe Speed of DarkThe Spinoza ProblemThe Stethoscope CureThe Stillwater GirlsThe Stone GodsThe Story HourThe Story of Beautiful GirlThe Sudden Arrival of ViolenceThe Summer ChildrenThe Sweet Relief of Missing ChildrenThe Sweetness at the Bottom of the PieThe SyndromeThe Tenth CircleThe Tenth JusticeThe Third AngelThe Time Traveler's WifeThe Torn SkirtThe TouristThe Trick Is to Keep BreathingThe Trouble with Goats and SheepThe Troubled ManThe Undertaker's WifeThe Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector ChopraThe Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia MossThe UnnamedThe UnquietThe Unseen WorldThe Usual MistakesThe Vanishing Act of Esme LennoxThe VegetarianThe Virgin BlueThe Virgin CureThe Water ChildrenThe WaveThe Weed That Strings the Hangman's BagThe Whole TruthThe Wide WindowThe Wild Assís SkinThe Witch ElmThe Woman and the ApeThe Woman UpstairsThe Wrong Side of GoodbyeThe Year of the FloodThe Year That FollowsTherapyThere Are No EldersThings You Didnt SeeThings You Should KnowThinks...Third Class SuperheroThirty NothingThis Beautiful LifeThis Body of DeathThose GirlsThose Who Wish Me DeadThumbsuckerTimothy Tunny Swallowed a BunnyTina's MouthTiny DeathsTisToby's RoomTony & SusanToo Much HappinessTooth and NailTouchTouching Spirit BearTouchy SubjectsTrailer GirlTransparencyTraumaTreacherous LoveTrespassTriburbiaTrust ExerciseTucker PeakTuringTwentieth Century EightballTwinmakerTwo Can PlayTwo Little Girls in BlueUnaccustomed EarthUnder Rose-Tainted SkiesUnder the DamUnder the HarrowUnder the InfluenceUnfitUnholy StoriesUniversal HarvesterUnkemptUnlessUp in FlamesUp in the AirUpstateVacuum in the DarkValenciaVenus DriveVeronika Decides to DieVery ValentineViolet & ClaireVisits from The Drowned GirlVoid MoonWaiting for SunriseWakeWarlightWastelandWatching the DarkWe Are All Completely Beside OurselvesWe Are OkayWelding with ChildrenWell-Remembered DaysWemberly WorriedWhat Became of UsWhat It Means to Love YouWhat the Birds SeeWhat Waiting Really MeansWhat Was She Thinking? Notes on a ScandalWhat We Don't Know About ChildrenWhat's So Terrible About Swallowing an Apple Seed?When My Heart Joins the ThousandWhen We Were AnimalsWhen We Were OrphansWhere We LivedWhite HotWhite HousesWhy Did I EverWidowWild AwakeWild ChildWill@epicqwest.comWillful CreaturesWitWithout TessWolf in White VanWomen's Murder Club Box SetWunderlandYou or Someone Like YouYou Should Have KnownYou Will Know MeYour Body is ChangingYour Heart Belongs to MeZapZap
Generosity is an irritating and tiresome novel bustling with fascinating ideas. It would work best as a graphic novel with long footnotes, full of clever one-liners and big themes that don't add up to much. Yet Powers won the 2006 National Book Award for Fiction for his novel The Echo Maker, and his is a distinguished American novelist, so this new work is not one that can be easily dismissed. I should admit that I tried to read The Echo Maker because of the high praise it won, but I gave up half way through, defeated by characters I didn't like and a plot that didn't interest me. So maybe there's just a bad fit between Powers' writing style and my preferences. However, I can't help thinking that Powers approach to his topic of the science and ethics of happiness is superficial.
The plot is simple enough. Russell Stone is an adjunct professor teaching a creative nonfiction class at a Chicago university. One of his students is Thassadit Amzwar, from Canada and prior to that, from Berber Algeria, and her family has a history of being oppressed. She is an orphan and refugee from the civil war in her home country. Yet she seems very happy -- much too happy given her circumstances. Russell consults with a university psychologist, who raises the possibility that Thassa has hyperthymia. This is not a disorder, but it is an abnormal state. Other people come to learn about Thassa, and she starts to be investigated by scientists. They examine her brain chemistry and her genetics, in the hope of discovering her secret. She appears in TV documentaries and even on a popular daytime talk show. She becomes very well known. Of course, this does not turn out well.
Thassa's friends in Chicago from the writing class are very concerned about her, especially because they were so drawn to her in the first place. Russell and the psychologist Candace Weld (who are attracted to each other) are especially concerned about her and their role in changing her life. Their own romance seems to depend on Thassa, and when her life becomes more difficult, their relationship runs into trouble.
The other main characters in the novel are scientist Thomas Kurton and journalist Tonia Schiff, and they enable Powers to set out plenty of discussion of the science of happiness, positive psychology, antidepressants as life enhancers, neuroscience, genetics, and technology, along with the blogosphere, TV, newspapers, and language. Kurton is a caricature of a scientific reductionist, and Schiff is a caricature of the popularizer who has second thoughts about the effects of her work on the world.
There are two main problems with the book. First and foremost, the characterization is just dreadful. None of the characters is remotely interesting except as a locus of theoretical ideas. Not even Thassa herself, who is bemused by the attention around her and doesn't believe for a moment that she is really as extraordinary as other people say she is. We find little about her and nothing about her internal life, and no descriptions of her make it clear why others think she is so happy; she just seems polite and enthusiastic. Russell goes though a sort of crisis near the end of the novel but it is never clear what it is all about. The other characters are simply wooden. This problem is exacerbated by Powers' decision to go postmodern and make the narrator refer to the creation of the story itself and his decisions in forming the plot. We never find out who the narrator is -- possibly it is Russell himself, many years after. Putting the whole thing in quotation marks and distancing the reader from the immediacy of the plot may be clever (though it is hardly new) but it just makes us care even less about what happens.
Second, and this also enhances the first problem, the writing is glib. Powers loves for his characters to make pompous and trite statements, just like in a comic book. For example, "The entire spinning planet must be bipolar," "Plug and play chromosomes. Why didn't I think of that?," and "Reality has become programming's wholly owned subsidiary." The whole book is full of this. Combined with all the trendy science and popular culture, one is left with the impression that the book is just throwing a bunch of ideas about happiness together, sticking a possibly unhappy ending on it, and hoping that people will think it all adds up to an examination of the human condition in modern neuro-geno-cyber-technological society. But it isn't. It reads like a collection of popular science blog entries held together by a self-conscious plot. It's as pleasing as running your nails down a chalkboard.
Other authors have covered similar ground with more success: Jonathan Franzen in The Corrections and Dirk Wittenborn in Pharmakon, for example. Powers does more here in Generosity, with a focus on genetics rather than neuroscience and neuropharmacology, and combining it all with media and popular culture. In those other novels however, the social context is far richer, and the characters really connect with each other.
The unabridged audiobook is performed by David Pittou. He makes different people's voices distinct and gives them energy, but his somewhat disinterested reserved tones don't help the novel. I did find, however, that on a second listening, the book became more interesting because then it was more possible to engage with it at its own theoretical level, and just take pleasure in the individual turns of phrase and the social observations, once the issues of the plot could be safely kept in the background.
© 2009 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.