Wednesday, October 19, 2016

GENEROSITY by Richard Powers

“Generosity” is the nickname that her fellow students give to Thassadit Amzwar.  Thassa possesses a contagious exuberance that is at odds with the tragedies she has experienced as a refugee from civil war in Algeria.  Russell Stone is the hapless adjunct professor conducting the nonfiction creative writing class in which Thassa is a force of jubilation that cannot be denied.  When a genetic enhancement scientist gets wind of the fact that Thassa may have a genetic predisposition toward happiness, all hell breaks loose.  Her sudden notoriety on social media and in the press threatens finally to undo her. Russell, meanwhile, has enlisted the help of college counselor Candace Weld, to help him informally evaluate Thassa, but Candace soon finds that she cannot befriend Thassa and still retain her unbiased position.  There are several sticky subjects here.  At what point does screening for potentially devastating genetically-transmitted diseases veer into the controversial territory of human engineering?  Russell had some success as a published author of nonfiction stories but then caused unforeseen ramifications for the subjects of his stories.  Similarly, Thassa’s exposure unleashes a barrage of paparazzi, hate-mailers, spiritual seekers, and just plain crazy people.   Russell retreats from writing, but retreating from life for Thassa is much more difficult.  Candace’s dilemma seems the most unfair and perhaps a little contrived, since she is never really Thassa’s therapist.  I loved The Echo Maker, but I struggled with this book and could not decipher the ending at all.  It is, however,  more layman-friendly in the genetics department than The Gold Bug Variations—and a lot shorter.  I loved the melancholy Russell and his unexpected delight with the response from his first class, but I did not feel the uplifting presence of Thassa that is central to the story.

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