cover image Tell the Machine Goodnight

Tell the Machine Goodnight

Katie Williams. Riverhead, $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-525-53312-2

Williams’s debut, a savvy take on technology’s potential and its moral failings, imagines a near future in which lives are altered by a happiness machine. The year is 2026, and Pearl is a technician for Apricity, where she’s assigned to analyze and communicate the results of the company’s eponymous happiness machines, which read genetic markers and creates individualized formulas for happiness. Her own family’s “contentment plan” is not as easy to read: her marriage to Elliot is over, and her teenage son Rhett remains vulnerable, having suffered from an eating disorder for years. Other characters’ stories of warped happiness and misbegotten technology spiral out from the central, deeply intimate tale of Pearl’s flailing hopes for Rhett’s happiness—and his own tentative, private steps toward recovery. These include Elliot’s self-destructive performance art based on strangers’ Apricity readings, Pearl’s boss’s ill-advised attempts to use Apricity to gain professional status, and other heartbreaking stories about the intersection of technology, tragedy, and regret. Forays into the realms of celebrity commodification and the absurdities of fame notwithstanding, Williams never allows satire to overtake her story’s moral center or its profoundly generous and humanistic heart, resulting in a sharp and moving novel. (June)