I really enjoyed Richard Powers’ National Book Award winning novel The Echo Maker, so I was interested to see what he’d do next. His newest novel, Generosity: An Enhancement, begins when Russell Stone sets out to teach his first writing class at a small Chicago college. One of the students in his class, an Algerian named Thassa, is constantly happy. She tells the story of the deaths of her parents, and has the class full of rapt attention because she radiates some kind of exuberance that is nothing short of irresistible. Her classmates call her Miss Generosity, and people naturally take to her because of her magnetic optimism.
She’s so happy that Russell begins to wonder if she isn’t afflicted with some kind of personality disorder. After she meets with a school counselor, it’s determined that she does seem to have hyperthymia, but is that such a bad thing? Soon, a scientist learns about her condition, and determines that it may be genetic. After his company releases its findings, she becomes a celebrity of sorts, and her natural sunny disposition is challenged again and again. People begin to discuss whether instilling future generations with the “happiness” gene means a positive change in humanity or if it just indicates man has gone too far in playing God.
I was extremely engaged by Generosity, as the ethical questions it posed were consistently interesting. There’s something relatable in each character, and even though I could tell where the story was headed with regard to Thassa, I still wanted to know how it would get to that point. In the end, Generosity is really a story about writing and the creative process, and I’m always a sucker for those anyway.
While I think The Echo Maker is probably the better book, Generosity was more for me. If you don’t mind a bit of science in your fiction (I’m not talking about science fiction, though), both are very worthwhile reads.