Sunday, March 23, 2014

Book Review: The Happiness Code


The Happiness Code by Amy Herrick

This is an interesting book I can't recommend. From time to time, I find that I can't recommend a book that I've read, sometimes after only reading a short bit, other times having invested the effort to make it to the end. It didn't take a lot of effort here, I kept reading, even at the expense of sleep some nights, so I've been trying to figure out for a few days why I wouldn't recommend it.

The Happiness Code takes place a few days or years in the future, which leads to this weird sense that things are almost as they are, except a little different. Like moving to a new state. Little things like the names of phones ("voicelink" and "pocketlink") or how garbage is collected (you put it "laser bins" on the curb and the "laser truck" comes and picks it up - essentially a guy in a truck that incinerates the garbage as he goes - messy, dirty, unhealthy work but apparently a technological advance from garbage collection). This slightly, but only slightly, futuristic world allows the story to be told of a mad scientist who finds an interesting connection between a genetic condition no one is studying (even though everyone who has it dies by the age of 25) and happiness (everyone with this genetic condition seems to be very happy). His aim, naturally, is to separate what causes people to be happy from the part that causes them to die young.

Sadly, (for him), the work is shut down because he's doesn't necessarily follow all the rules and laws when it comes to his sciencing. One of his staff takes advantage of the situation to get ahold of some of the work and then convinces a coworker to become a sperm donor and she has a baby who's always very happy. When she's killed, the sister takes the baby and leaves it in the backyard of the donor and his family at their new house.

Much like this baby suddenly appearing, this book suddenly appeared. It was in our holds at the library but no one could remember requesting it, so I read it when it came home. It wasn't on my reading list but it sounds like something EW would have recommended.

So much of the story centers around the donor and his family and their everyday struggles as boring people who lack passion and love, their neighbors, their friends and the scientist who learns of the baby and wants to kidnap it for scientific experiments.

I tried to think why I wouldn't recommend this book and I guess it's because I wouldn't want someone to recommend it to me. The baby, Bertrand, is happy all of the time. But he has no sense of danger and is constantly doing things that puts him in harm's way, sometimes nearly causing him to die. In other cases, his new parents are essentially negligent. As the parent of a child who has no sense for his own safety, I know first-hand that you gotta watch him constantly, or take efforts to seriously babyproof the house to make it safe for a while to play unattended.

But these parents, who seem to just be muddling through, don't take those kinds of precaution and so the baby nearly chokes to death, bleeds to death, gets struck by lightning and kidnapped (where he's subsequently tortured to find out if there's any limits to his ability to be happy, thankfully told with very little detail). As the parent of a child who will run away from you any chance they get (including parking lots) and stick anything in their mouths, we'd been to the ER too many times. So to read of parents who seem clueless and negligent and while infatuated with the baby, struggle to have any sort of love for each other or their other child, well, that was just too much to take.

There's also a subplot of their cat's meanderings after being captured in a neighbor's house and the neighbor takes them across town and dumps them. That cat's point of view is fun, being chased by "stinkbarkers" and hunting "skyflappers" and strangely enough, "mice."

None of the characters in the story seems all that happy, except the baby. It's almost as if to say that to be happy could kill you. But the sad way in which all the other characters live their lives makes you question if the author's saying that there's really nothing to live for and that it's all just random and unpleasant.

So while the author uses some great descriptions, the story doesn't hold up structurally, or as one I wanted to be a part of, though I was just curious enough to make it to the end.


The Happiness Code
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