Congratulations to Carl Scott, winner of last week's Friday Freebie, It's Fine By Me by Per Petterson.
A Working Theory of Love. Here's the plot in a nutshell: Neill Bassett is a suddenly-single dude living in San Francisco after his Marriage From Hell ended in divorce. He works for a startup firm that's trying to come up with a program to give computers sentient feelings--i.e., make them more human-like. In order to do this, Neill has been feeding his father's old journals into the database. The fact that his father committed suicide 10 years ago adds an emotional complexity to the story. After inputting 20 years of his father's diaries, Neill finds he's now having "conversations" with a pixelated personality that seems just like his dad—discussing his life, his childhood, and his current romantic woes (of which he has many). Okay, that's as much as I'll tell you about the plot at this point. You'll have to get the book to learn how it all spools out. And you should get this book--even if you're the eventual winner of the contest, you need to buy an extra copy to give as a Christmas gift to that special someone on your list. Unless, of course, that "someone" is a computer with which you've been spending waaay too much time. In which case, I can't help you out.
Here are just a few of the kind things which have been said about A Working Theory of Love:
"It takes a genius, a supercomputer, a disembodied voice and a man who's stopped believing to create A Working Theory of Love, Scott Hutchins's brilliantly inventive debut novel. Incandescent with humor and insight, Hutchins's portrait of human longing falls as warm and slant across these pages as a California sunset. Original, wise, full of serious thinking, serious fun, and the shock of the new, this book is astonishing."
—Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master's Son
"The field of artificial intelligence, or computer robotics, may not sound like a poignant story line for a novel, particularly one that bends thematically toward the beatings of the heart. But Scott Hutchins, in A Working Theory of Love turns this potentially sterile technological world into an emotionally moving force that helps propel the narrative as it grapples with the stuff of real life... In quick, artful strokes, the various characters in a wide cast are memorably drawn and entwined in Neill's personal saga. Even the would-be intelligent machine, "Dr. Bassett," becomes such a vivid character that questions of its mortality, not just its human dimensions, are raised... A terrific debut, an intriguing, original take on family and friendship, lust and longing, grief and forgiveness."
"A brainy, bright, laughter-through-tears, can’t-stop-reading-until-it’s-over kind of novel. Fatherless daughters, mother-smothered sons, appealing ex-wives, mouthy high school drop-outs—damn, this book’s got something for everyone!"
—Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story
For a small taste of the rich pleasures to be found in these pages, here are the opening lines to the novel:
A few days ago, a fire truck and an ambulance pulled up to my apartment building on the south hill overlooking Dolores Park. A group of paramedics got out, the largest of them bearing a black chair with red straps and buckles. They were coming for my upstairs neighbor, Fred, who is a drinker and a hermit, but who I’ve always held in a strange esteem. I wouldn’t want to trade situations: he spends most of his time watching sports on the little flat-screen television perched at the end of his kitchen table. He smokes slowly and steadily (my ex-wife used to complain about the smell), glued to tennis matches, basketball tournaments, football games—even soccer. He has no interest in the games themselves, only in the bets he places on them. His one regular visitor, the postman, is also his bookie. Fred is a former postal employee himself.If you'd like a chance at winning A Working Theory of Love, all you have to do is email your name and mailing address to firstname.lastname@example.org
As I say, I wouldn’t want to trade situations. The solitariness and sameness of his days isn’t alluring. And yet he’s always been a model of self-sufficiency. He drinks too much and smokes too much, and if he eats at all he’s just heating up a can of Chunky. But he goes and fetches all of this himself—smokes, drink, Chunky—swinging his stiff legs down the hill to the corner store and returning with one very laden paper bag. He then climbs the four flights of stairs to his apartment—a dirtier, more spartan copy of mine—where he lives alone, itself no small feat in the brutal San Francisco rental market. He’s always cordial on the steps, and even in the desperate few months after my divorce, when another neighbor suggested a revolving door for my apartment (to accommodate high traffic—a snide comment), Fred gave me a polite berth. He knocked on my door once, but only to tell me that I should let him know if I could hear him banging around upstairs. He knew he had “a heavy footfall.” I took this to mean, we’re neighbors and that’s it, but you’re all right with me. Though maybe I read too much into it.
Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until midnight on Dec. 20—at which time I'll draw the winning name. I'll announce the lucky reader on Dec. 21. If you'd like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week Quivering Pen newsletter, simply add the words "Sign me up for the newsletter" in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).
Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you've done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying "I've shared" and I'll put your name in the hat twice.