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