Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams

It feels so good to have enjoyed a novel so fully that I read it in a day and a half. What had me so keen on the premise of Tell the Machine Goodnight is a) the fact that the synopsis “playfully illuminates our national obsession with positive psychology, our reliance on quick fixes and technology” and b) Gabrielle Zevin, one of my favorite authors who excels with her subtle little quips on our daily lives, blurbed it.

Pearl’s job is to make people happy. Every day, she provides customers with personalized recommendations for greater contentment. She’s good at her job, her office manager tells her, successful. But how does one measure an emotion?

Meanwhile, there’s Pearl’s teenage son, Rhett. A sensitive kid who has forged an unconventional path through adolescence, Rhett seems to find greater satisfaction in being unhappy. The very rejection of joy is his own kind of “pursuit of happiness.” As his mother, Pearl wants nothing more than to help Rhett–but is it for his sake or for hers? Certainly it would make Pearl happier. Regardless, her son is one person whose emotional life does not fall under the parameters of her job–not as happiness technician, and not as mother, either.

Told from an alternating cast of endearing characters from within Pearl and Rhett’s world, Tell the Machine Goodnight delivers a smartly moving and entertaining story about relationships and the ways that they can most surprise and define us. Along the way, Katie Williams playfully illuminates our national obsession with positive psychology, our reliance on quick fixes and technology. What happens when these obsessions begin to overlap? With warmth, humor, and a clever touch, Williams taps into our collective unease about the modern world and allows us see it a little more clearly.

Thankfully for my impatient temper, the introducing story starts off compelling enough, in particular, hits the spot for me upon introducing Pearl’s sixteen-year-old son, Rhett, who’s recovering from an eating disorder. His unknowable, remote nature makes for a natural pull in getting to know more about him. Incidentally, he’s also all the things that make me feel fond of a character: distant, moody, hates school, rarely leaves his home, is close to his mother (or getting to it).

Tell the Machine Goodnight 4To counter his anguished withdrawal, Pearl’s powerless state seeps in, when all she craves is to bring her child back from hovering on the brink, so she channels in her overprotective, overbearing, OVEReverything nature, similar to Joyce Byers in Stranger Things.

The following stories move deftly between alternating characters, such as Pearl’s ex-husband, Elliot, Pearl’s shifty coworker, Carter, Pearl’s high-end secret client for Apricity, who gets name-dropped throughout the book so that when we finally meet her it feels like all else has led up to this exact moment. At the heart of it all, though, stands Pearl with her fierce protectiveness (of herself, of her child, of her machine) at her beck and call.

Tell the Machine Goodnight gets so many things right by going outside the box not only on the platitudes of motherhood but through the whip-smart writing and a tremendous cast that lead to having numerous moments and turns of phrase to remind me of how good this book can be. Leading examples include:

  • #1

Tell the Machine Goodnight 15“unique store-bought personality” is one of the more memorable lines I’ve read this year.

  • #2Tell the Machine Goodnight 2

Typically, we’d fill in the brackets on our own, but Katie Williams is here to reminds us not to succumb to gender stereotypes.

  • Another moment where I felt the author truly shine was with Zihao’s introduction (Rhett’s college roommate, an international student from China). It takes a special type of writer to succeed at showcasing a character’s personality through text messages (and with emoji, no less).Tell the Machine Goodnight 1-- bookspoils
  • But he truly caught my attention when he got randomly along with Rhett’s mom.Tell the Machine Goodnight 2-- bookspoils The subtle ingenuity disposed between Rhett and Zi had me smiling like a fool.
  • And I’ll leave my review with one last riveting insight on something that I’m running over and over in my mind:

Tell the Machine Goodnight 5

I love how, throughout my reading experience, this novel remains utterly self-aware and keeps up with the whip-sharp and INNOVATIVE remarks on our deepest desires. And I know I said the above was the last passage I wanted to share, but I have one more subtle quip for the road: “Being home from college for the summer is like sleeping over at a friend’s house you’ve only ever visited in the afternoon. The furniture is familiar, but the light has gone funny on you.” 

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Publication Date: June 19th, 2018

bookspoilsbookspoilsbookspoilsbookspoils

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Tell the Machine Goodnightjust click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Advertisements

Review: No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July

This was so not what I was expecting. No One Belongs Here More Than You has got to be one of the worst books I’ve read in years. I can’t even recall the last time I was this appalled by a short story collection.

I started off my reading experience thinking this would follow the usual way of having no real structure to the stories but still including great quotes to ponder. And at first, that’s exactly what was being delivered to me with pieces of writing such as: “They seem easy to write, but that’s the illusion of all good advice.”

And this line from the story Majesty that’s all about dreams: “That day I carried the dream around like a full glass of water, moving gracefully so I would not lose any of it. ”

But then the story collection decides to take a turn for the worst by having stories written about incest (“I Kiss a Door”) and pedophilia (“The Boy from Lam Kien”) in such a tone as if they’re perfectly normal and acceptable everyday things.

“It is as if she came up from hell to make this one thing, a record, and then she went back. But who am I to say. Maybe it wasn’t hell. Maybe she really wanted to go back.”

I felt physically sick, so much so that I had to open up a window in the middle of the freezing night. And I still can’t shake off my disgust. Needless to say, I didn’t even bother to complete the rest of the stories because I don’t despise morality.

  • I usually note at the end of my reviews that I’m an Amazon Affiliate, and if you’re interested in buying the book I reviewed you can go through my link so that I’ll make a small commission. But instead, I’ll now implore you to browse through literally any other book on Amazon because No One Belongs Here More Than You is not worth your time or money.

bookspoils

Review: Saga, Vol. 8 by Brian K. Vaughan

Saga, vol 8 7-- bookspoilsAfter the traumatic events of the War for Phang, Hazel, her parents, and their surviving companions embark on a life-changing adventure at the westernmost edge of the universe.

Trying to gather together my scattered thoughts regarding this newest volume in the Saga series is turning out to be rather hard, so I opted for making this bullet point list below:

(Spoilers from here.)

  • The start of the journey took us to Abortion Town, after the unfortunate events of the last volume, where solid commentary was present in the precarious situation.Saga, vol 8 1-- bookspoils
  • This lullaby tribute to our most iconic babysitter, Izabel:Saga, vol 8 2-- bookspoils
  • The emotional bond between Hazel and “make-believe” Kurti. This is what this volume was truly about: focusing on fleshing out character-based storylines, which is incidentally how I like my stories best. Saga, vol 8 5-- bookspoilsThis moment of impact… She’s maturing at a rapid pace.Saga, vol 8 3-- bookspoilsThis girl has known too much loss in her young life.
  • Which then leads me back to Alana having to suffer through her miscarriage; it was utterly hard-hitting. Ultimately, she’s one the most formidable and fearsome protagonists I’ve encountered in my reading of graphic novels.Saga, vol 8 6-- bookspoilsHazel’s narration throughout was particularly grounding.
  • And last but not least, I have to mention that the completion of this volume was spectacular. I love how everything came together and connected seamlessly. Plus, the gorgeous artwork by Fiona Staples that brings the world and characters within to life.Saga, vol 8 7-- bookspoils

bookspoilsbookspoilsbookspoilsbookspoils

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Saga, Vol 8, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!