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Generosity: An Enhancement

A new novel from Richard Powers poses a disquieting question: Is it abnormal to be happy?

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When it comes to the mad scientists of American letters, no one sees more clearly through his safety goggles than Richard Powers. In his new novel, Generosity: An Enhancement, the National Book Award winner (“The Echo Maker”) and recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant takes something quintessentially American – the pursuit of happiness – and sends it spinning through the radioactive centrifuge of modern genetics.

Russell Stone was, briefly, a literary wunderkind who published essays in the New Yorker and scored a gig as a satirist on NPR. It turns out he wasn’t “merciless and mean enough for real creativity,” and after a crisis of conscience, Russell ends up editing self-help pieces for a magazine called “Becoming You.”

As the novel opens, he is offered a job at a Chicago college teaching creative nonfiction. There, one of his students turns out to be something as rare as a unicorn: a truly happy person.

Thassadit Amzwar is an orphaned refugee from Algeria who radiates such perpetual well-being that her classmates nickname her “The Bliss Chick” and “Miss Generosity.” “Ten years of organized bloodbath have reduced a country the size of Western Europe to a walking corpse. And Thassa has emerged from that land glowing like a blissed-out mystic.”

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