Title: A Working Theory of Love
Author: Scott Hutchins
Publisher: Penguin (October 2012)
Rating: 3 stars
On Goodreads a reviewer mentioned that A Working Theory of Love is Romance with a capital R. Now, I disagree with the capital R, but this is a love story—albeit a very male one.
What do I mean by that sexist comment?! Well dear reader, I mean that it’s a story of man (Neill) meets girl (Rachel) but doesn’t know who he is yet and totally takes advantage of girl’s naivety while he tries to figure it out. There is not a lot of romance per se, but there is a smattering of sex. The book chronicles Neill’s exploits. No magic hoo hoo for Rachel! She’s stuck with the for-some-reason-he-can’t-forget-it-but-doesn’t-stop-him-from-screwing-other-women hoo hoo.
Perhaps this is a realistic (re: cynical) look at love. I mean let’s get real, the magic hoo hoo is total crap, right? Love at first sight (and the sexual incapacitation that accompanies it) is the stuff of Romance novels and has no place in #reallife or real life novels. Fine. But in Romance novels the characters have witty banter and at least ONE thing in common. I could never quite figure out what it is about Rachel that Neill likes so much. I wasn’t convinced that Neill actually felt anything but a desire to save a lost, damaged girl.
Neill is shallow and wishy-washy. He also seems threatened by people expecting too much of him, especially women (maybe why he goes after the 20-year-old?). His emotional infancy is a purposeful character flaw (common in contemporary American Literature) that disguises his callousness and makes him a pitiable character. But I’m not buying it! I think he’s a total dick.
All that said, Neill has a dry sense of humor that had me laughing out-loud at times. A Working Theory of Love also raises some really interesting questions about artificial intelligence and the future of love and relationships. Like… What does it mean to love a woman? What does love feel like? Is love what makes us all sufficiently human? (for example, everyone loves someone, whether it’s their mother, their friend, or their dog.) Can we love something that isn’t human, like a robot? What if we could tailor a robot to be our perfect lover? Would that be better than being with a person?
Artificial intelligence in this novel comes into play when Neill starts working for Amiante Systems. Before Neill’s father committed suicide Dr. Bassett kept fastidious journals. And when Amiante Systems uses these journals to create an intelligent computer, they hire Neill to humanize the computer. Daily conversations with his computer-father (my favorite part of the book!) send Neill’s life into turmoil. Now he’s getting relationship and life advice from his dead father’s computer-self. And when the computer starts to think rather than just relay information, Neill is faced with a bit of an existential crisis. Did he ever really love his father? Could he have prevented his suicide?
Neill becomes obsessed with his parents’ relationship and asks the computer all sorts of questions about it. Perhaps he’s trying to figure out how their love worked, so that he can piece together how he feels about Rachel. He’s asking the age-old question: How do you know she’s the one? Neill goes more deeply into his theory of love at the end of the novel, which redeems him a bit (even though it sounds a bit too sentimental, a bit out-of-character). This is where the novel starts to sound like a contemporary Romance—and it makes me wonder if Hutchins just threw it in there to placate his female readers.
I don’t consider this book a Romance capital R. A Working Theory of Love is more about Neill’s character growth than two people falling madly in love. But I do think the novel poses interesting questions about what love is and how it will change over time as technology improves and expands.