A Working Theory of Love

By Scott Hutchins
(Penguin Press HC, The, Hardcover, 9781594205057, 336pp.)

Publication Date: October 2, 2012

Other Editions of This Title: Paperback, Compact Disc, Compact Disc, MP3 CD, Paperback

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Description

Settled back into the San Francisco singles scene following the implosion of his young marriage just months after the honeymoon, Neill Bassett is going
through the motions. His carefully modulated routine, however, is soon disrupted in ways he can’t dismiss with his usual nonchalance.

When Neill’s father committed suicide ten years ago, he left behind thousands of pages of secret journals, journals that are stunning in their detail, and, it must be said, their complete banality. But their spectacularly quotidian details, were exactly what artificial intelligence company Amiante Systems was looking for, and Neill was able to parlay them into a job, despite a useless degree in business marketing and absolutely no experience in computer science. He has spent
the last two years inputting the diaries into what everyone hopes will become the world’s first sentient computer. Essentially, he has been giving it language—using his father’s words. Alarming to Neill—if not to the other employees of Amiante—the experiment seems to be working. The computer actually appears to be gaining awareness and, most disconcerting of all, has started asking questions about Neill’s childhood.

Amid this psychological turmoil, Neill meets Rachel. She was meant to be a one-night stand, but Neill is unexpectedly taken with her and
the possibilities she holds. At the same time, he remains preoccupied by unresolved feelings for his ex-wife, who has a talent for appearing at the most unlikely and unfortunate times. When Neill discovers a missing year in the diaries—a year that must hold some secret to his parents’ marriage and perhaps even his father’s suicide—everything Neill thought he knew about his past comes into question, and every move forward feels impossible to make.

With a lightness of touch that belies pitch-perfect emotional control, Scott Hutchins takes us on an odyssey of love, grief, and reconciliation that shows us how, once we let go of the idea that we’re trapped by our own sad histories—our childhoods, our bad decisions, our miscommunications with those we love—we have the chance to truly be free. A Working Theory of Love marks the electrifying debut of a prodigious new talent.




About the Author

Scott Hutchins, a Truman Capote Fellow in the Wallace Stegner Program at Stanford University, received his MFA from the University of Michigan. His work has appeared in StoryQuarterly, The Rumpus, The New York Times, and Esquire. He currently teaches at Stanford.




Praise For A Working Theory of Love

"Hutchins is an unsentimental and compassionate creator of vivid characters, a master aphorist ('Artists are always the Johnny Appleseeds of gentrification') and an expert architect of set pieces... [A] charming, warmhearted, and thought-provoking novel." —New York Times Book Review

"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."
—Associated Press

“A wistful, funny debut.”
—People

"What makes a man? In this terrific debut novel, A Working Theory of Love, emotionally adrift divorcé Neill Bassett Jr. is trying to build the world's first sentient computer program. After inputting 20 years of his late father's diaries, he holds conversations with a pixelated personality that seems just like his dad—discussing his life, his childhood, and his current romantic woes. Throughout, Hutchins hits that sweet spot where humor and melancholy comfortably coexist."
—Entertainment Weekly

“One of the most humane (not to mention moving and hilarious) stories I've read in a long time.”
—Interview

“The realistic manner in which Hutchins depicts the not-depressed, yet not-joyful way Neill goes through (a pretty interesting) life will strike a chord with many readers. But at the end of the day, it's the slow revelation of Neill's vibrantly beating heart (despite all his efforts to stay detached!) and his romantic, leap-of-faith-taking soul that will surprise, delight, and leave your own heart buoyant and brimming by the last page.”
—Redbook

"Inventive, intelligent and sometimes hilarious... One of the pleasures here is Hutchins' terrific grasp of the zeitgeist - the intellectual energies, cultural landscapes and characters of the Bay Area... A Working History of Love revels in these big questions: Are humans more like computers than we think? Is the experience of love all chemicals and projection? Is human connection an illusion - a kind of cosmic Turing test in which it's only necessary to fool a few people some of the time? By the end of this novel, one feels empathically engaged with the plight of the machine. Our minds too 'are all 0s and 1s, the neurons either on or off. There's no center for a soul. Just pattern upon pattern upon pattern through which the rough-shaped thing we call ourselves emerges into view.'"
San Francisco Chronicle

"Ultimately, A Working Theory of Love examines, quite successfully, our semi-delusional approach to interpersonal relationships and contemplates whether the world comes down on the side of seem or be—or if it remains negotiated in the space in between."
—BOMB Magazine

"The idea of a grown man receiving closure from a supercomputer acting as his father sounds more comical than poignant, but readers will be unable to put the book down as the conversations between man and machine grow more intimate, and Neill is forced to deal with the pain of his father's suicide. Questions about the nature of humanity and love are expertly explored in this impressive debut. "
—BookPage

"A deftly managed novel about the ways we move on and the ways we don't, the stock we put in memory and language, and the incompetent ways that we strive to love each other. "
—Christian Science Monitor

"[A] must-read debut novel. [A Working Theory of Love] is in some ways is a kind of Nick Hornby-ish take on Richard Powers' computer classic, Galatea 2.2... this novel thwarts the reader's expectations at every turn, blurring the line between man, memory, and machine."
—Details

"While the artificial-intelligence conceit feels utterly unique in this literary fiction context, Neill himself is universal in his specificity, his glacially slow emotional evolution both frustrating yet strangely relatable... Hutchins' true triumph, however, lies within his novel's convergence of language and pacing. The story he's chosen to tell, despite flirting with the fantastical, reveals no outrageous twists, nor dramatic revelations, yet he steadily builds tension through his linguistic choices. In other words, life's realistic detours are described in such a way as to heighten their relevance; a failed marriage's quotidian traumas are revealed with slow purpose, small pauses are used to oversize effect. In this modern tale of life's scattered attachments, of an individual's journey toward the self-sufficiency only a curated collection of wise entanglements can provide, even small revelations echo."
—New City

“Compelling, strange, but very endearing.”
—The Rumpus

“First-time novelist Hutchins manages to address weighty questions (e.g.,  what makes us human?) without ever losing his sly sense of humor in this witty, insightful Silicon Valley comedy of manners.”
—Library Journal

“I have a feeling A Working Theory of Love will be among the most talked-about novels this season… Please, readers, don’t miss this one.”
—Constant Reader

"A Working Theory of Love is a refreshing exploration of how the many relationships every person has can shape who we are. It is a reflection on failure, fear, grief, hope, and, of course, love. Lovers, friends, family, coworkers, and even the city in which one lives: Hutchins demonstrates what these connections can mean in our search for fulfillment." --ZYZZYVA

“Can a man resurrect his father by downloading his diaries into a super-computer? Can he also resurrect his love life after a sudden divorce, months after the honeymoon? Can the author weave a mesmerizing tale of redemption? You bet!”—Sacramento Bee

“SF’s most exciting new novelist”
—Huffington Post San Francisco

“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 and Absurdistan

“Scott Hutchins is a wonderfully original new voice, and A Working Theory of Love reads like what would happen if Walker Percy’s moviegoer woke up as a computer programmer in sexually ‘enlightened’ San Francisco. It’s about love in all its forms: between man and woman, man and parent, man and city, and man and machine.”
—Eric Puchner, author of Model Home and Music Through the Floor

“It takes a genius, a supercomputer, a disembodied voice and a man who’s stopped believing to create A Working Theory of Love. 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

“Scott Hutchins’s wonderful new novel is right on the border of what is possible: a computer is programmed to be the reincarnation of the narrator’s dead father, and the narrator, a charming thirty-something American, learns what it is to be human and to love. The book is brilliantly observant about the way we live now, and its comic and haunting story will stay lodged in the reader’s memory.”
—Charles Baxter, author of The Feast of Love

“I am very happy to say that this book made me very sad, and also very happy—happy to have the witty, loving and unsentimental companionship of such a knowing loneliness. A smart and wonderful book with a real—a complicated and unpredictable—heart.”
—Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances
 

"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 and Absurdistan

“I am very happy to say that this book made me very sad, and also very happy—happy to have the witty, loving and unsentimental companionship of such a knowing loneliness. A smart and wonderful book with a real—a complicated and unpredictable—heart.”
—Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances



"Scott Hutchins's wonderful new novel is right on the border of what is possible: a computer is programmed to be the reincarnation of the narrator's dead father, and the narrator, a charming thirty-something American, learns what it is to be human and to love. The book is brilliantly observant about the way we live now, and its comic and haunting story will stay lodged in the reader’s memory."
—Charles Baxter, author of The Feast of Love



"Scott Hutchins is a wonderfully original new voice, and his important and perceptive novel, A Working Theory of Love, reads like what would happen if Walker Percy’s moviegoer woke up as a computer programmer in sexually ‘enlightened’ San Francisco. It’s about artificial intelligence, a man trying to resurrect his dead father, and the quest for romance in a world of one night stands.  Mostly, though, it’s about love in all its forms: between man and woman, man and parent, man and city, and man and machine.  But the love that makes this book a marvel is for the English language itself: every sentence in Hutchins’s sparkling debut is priceless."
—Eric Puchner, author of Model Home and Music Through the Floor



"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 Emporium, Parasites Like Us, and The Orphan Master's Son

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