“Generosity” by Richard Powers – The Happiness Gene

“Generosity” by Richard Powers

The novel “Generosity” is about the near fact that each person’s happiness is a result of the individual genes that each of us carries.  Louise Brown, the world’s first test tube baby, was born in Manchester, England, in 1978.  Now there are hundreds of thousands of babies that are being conceived in test tubes each year.  Soon parents of test tube babies will be able to select the genes which their baby will have.  These parents will be able to avoid congenital diseases such as epilepsy and diabetes by selecting certain chromosomes for their baby.  They also will be able to select chromosomes to avoid conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.  Scientists are already working to isolate the “happiness gene” which will cause the bearer to be all-around happier than the average person.
Richard Powers Richard Powers
photo © Jane Kuntz

I hope I can adequately convey the pleasure (happiness?) I obtained from reading “Generosity” by Richard Powers.   This novel is one of my favorite reads of 2009, because it contains a moving story with striking new ideas which I have not encountered before.  All is presented in dramatic and thought-provoking fashion.

This novel is about genomics.  Genomics is the study of the DNA sequences that comprise individual life. You might think, “A novel about genomics? How very boring.” and you would be completely wrong.  This is a very human moving story that we don’t read about every day.

The story starts with a guy, Russell Stone, teaching a community college night course in journal writing.  One of his students, a young woman, is an immigrant from Algeria.  Her father was murdered in the continual political violence in Algeria, and her family has been uprooted and is now spread out around the world.  Yet this young woman, Thassa Anzwar, is preternaturally happy.   She lights up the entire class, and everyone wants to be her friend. She is one of those people who becomes friends with everyone she meets, even people she meets on elevators.  Circumstances lead her to meet a genomics researcher who is looking for the happiness gene.

    Hyperthymia – a personality type or temperament characterized by happiness, high energy levels, extroversion, productiveness, and creativity.

GenerosityRichard Powers, a writer from Illinois, is a strong stylist, and he can make the most complicated ideas understandable and dramatic.  I’ve read two other Richard Powers novels, “Galatêa 2.2” and “Gain”, both of which are impressive.  He has developed his own unique style of writing which conveys the story powerfully.   Powers also won the US National Book Award in 2006 for his novel “The Echo Maker”.  “Generosity” is another powerful novel which I highly recommend.

Having read perhaps a thousand novels that deal solely with the past, I find it hugely exhilarating to read a writer who writes with honesty and intelligence about our future, who faces tomorrow and the day after tomorrow in a humane and empathetic way.  Richard Powers is one of my favorite writers.


5 responses to this post.

  1. You are recommending too many must-reads. How is one to keep up?! This one sounds intriguing, but I am not sure that I could take all that undiluted happiness.

    Here’s a question to put you on the spot; of all the authors you have blogged about so far, which one would you recommend above all others?


  2. Sarah,
    Yes, I too am getting disgusted with all my positive reviews. Too much ‘wonderful’, ‘amazing’,”impressive’. Stay tuned for my next blog entry. That may clear some things up.

    Best author I’ve blogged about so far? Probably Amelie Nothomb.


  3. Tony,
    I thought that might be your answer, and I am pleased…


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