"A brainy, bright, laughter-through-tears, can't-stop-reading-until-it's-over kind of novel," blurbs Gary Shteyngart on the back of Scott Hutchins' A Working Theory of Love (Penguin Press, $26). As Shteyngart-watchers know, an endorsement from the Absurdistan author doesn't necessarily mean that much; he has openly admitted he'll blurb any book sent to him, and you can read the results on a Tumblr dedicated to the Collected Blurbs. In this case, however, his word can be trusted.
In Working Theory, which in some ways is a kind of Nick Hornby-ish take on Richard Powers' computer classic, Galatea 2.2, a 36-year-old recent divorcé named Neill Bassett struggles with not only the concerns of new bachelorhood (dining out alone, running into his ex on a date, checking into youth hostels in an attempt to meet girls) but also the far more atypical demands of his new job.
Specifically, he's been hired by a Silicon Valley software company to help design a genuinely sentient computer program, whose artificial personality is based on his own late father's. Said father kept a series of diaries so voluminous and detail-packed he became known as "the Samuel Pepys of the South." He also committed suicide, which gives Neill's regular discussions with the computer program a certain uneasy frisson, especially as the program begins to improve and Neill learns more of his father's secrets.
Like Neill's disjointed, oddly affecting chats with the A.I., this novel thwarts the reader's expectations at every turn, blurring the line between man, memory, and machine.
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—Timothy Hodler, research director at Details