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THE HAPPINESS CODE

Amy Herrick, Author . Viking $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-670-03197-9

Genetic experimentation yields an amazing result: a happy baby who transforms lives. Herrick's effervescent first novel (after the short fiction collection At the Sign of the Naked Waiter), a blend of fantasy, mystery and domestic comedy, is set in near-future New York City and populated with characters that are as endearing as they are eccentric. Ken Fishhammer, a fanatical bioengineer, hopes to eliminate unhappiness by tinkering with the human genome and "shaping the human disposition." Marina, his lab assistant, merely yearns to have a happy baby. She mixes the contents of one of Ken's petri dishes with a sperm donation from Arthur Sorenson, a co-worker. Arthur, who has resisted his wife's pleas to have a second child, decides the sperm donation might be an easier way to "repay the common human debt"—plus he feels sorry for Marina, a refugee from "a certain highly destabilized Eastern European country." Not long after the baby's arrival, Marina dies in a freak accident and the child lands in Arthur's own backyard, the answer to wife Pinky's prayer. Teddy, their seven-year old son, a pint-sized scientist (he's been making a formula for invisibility and finally got it to work on an ant) and his cat, Oedipus, aren't so thrilled with the cherub's arrival, but eventually even these two are won over by the sweet, contented tot. But Ken, along with his new patron, zillionaire Mitchell Newman, learns about the baby's origins and kidnaps him so he can be imprisoned and studied under lab conditions. The subsequent mayhem involved in the baby's rescue leads to an important discovery—"Happiness is a little thing.... It comes and goes. It's finding meaning that makes life worthwhile to people." Herrick manages to turn the high-concept premise into a genuinely diverting tale. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/10/2003
Release date: 03/01/2003
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