Shine Shine Shine.
Maxon Mann is a socially awkward and way-too-literal-minded robotics engineer. He's the genius behind the design of a moon colony completely built by robots and he's on his way to the moon to put his plan in place. Maxon's flaw is that he wants to be perfectly logical — to eschew the three things he can't seem to program into his robots, "Show preference without reason (LOVE)...doubt rationale decisions (REGRET)....trust data from previously unreliable source (FORGIVE)." Even as Maxon aspires to "elevate" himself to pure logic (robot?), he still seems to understand the value of being human: "Humans work. They are an evolutionary success. The more they evolve, the more successful they become." And he's glad he fell in love with Sunny, despite all rationale to the contrary.
His wife, Sunny, who since they were kids has tried to teach him how to act based on feeling instead of logic, was born to American missionaries in Burma. She just wants to have a normal life, and her flaw is not being able to resist the temptation to celebrate what makes her unique — which is the fact that she has been born bald. And quirky. When she and Maxon decide to begin having children, she begins wearing a wig — a (maybe-way-too-obvious) symbol for normalcy. Their son Bubber is autistic, and in her more unguarded moments, Sunny blames Maxon that his too-logical, too-literal genes caused their son to be abnormal.
As Maxon is rocketing off into space, a car crash right at the beginning of the novel sends Sunny into a existential tailspin. But Maxon and Sunny met when they were kids, and so, much of the novel is told in flashback. It often felt like just as we got going in the present, we'd pulse back to the past for more back story that would show something supposedly meaningful about Maxon and Sunny's relationship.
Perhaps you've noticed by the tone of this post so far that I wasn't exactly a fan. And that's tough, because a lot of folks whose opinions I trust have loved this novel. If there were ever a time to throw out a (somewhat meaningless) review cliche, it's now: "I really wanted to like this." And more, when you aren't exactly enamored of a novel everyone and her sister seems to love, it's easy to fall into nit-picking to defend your opinion. For instance, the heart-throb TV newscaster neighbor, who all the neighborhood wives lust over, is named Les Weathers and is a fantastically cliché caricature of a real person. But that's not useful.
Really, what this came down to for me is that it just seemed so precious — as if we'd think "Yeah, this is all very precious, but it's also quirky and unusual and quite an inventive story, so it's okay that's it's precious." That, and the constant (perhaps overdone?) flashbacks gave the novel such a recursive feel. After about page 100, I kept thinking,"Wait, hadn't she made that point already?"
Please don't throw tomatoes at me. I know I'm in the minority on this one, but I can definitely see why other readers loved it. Netzer is a clever, funny writer (check out this line: "Pigs are earthy; their proximity may lead to carnal thoughts." And that line's even funnier, I realize now, loosed of context). But so, I just couldn't find my way into this one. If you're on the fence, read other reviews, and then decide. Chances are pretty good you'll like it more than I did. (How's that for passive-aggressive?!)