Lydia Netzer is a very quirky, creative author whose riffs on reality may not appeal to all readers, but I love the books she has written.
This story is about Sunny Mann, pregnant with her second child, and living the “Stepford” life in Norfolk, Virginia. Her husband, Maxon, is a brilliant Nobel-prize winner with Asperger syndrome who is on his way to the moon with other astronauts to try to set up a colony there with the aid of robots Maxon designed.
Sunny was born without any hair anywhere on her body, but after she became pregnant with her first child, “Bubber,” she started wearing a wig, as well as false eyebrows and false eyelashes. The idea of being a mother was terrifying to Sunny. She was obsessed with being “normal,” because that’s what she thought a mother should be. There are expectations of a mother, she thought; she must fill a role. She felt every bit as much of a robot as those that Maxon built.
And in fact, Maxon’s robots were very humanistic, except for three qualities he had not yet been able to program:
Show preference without reason (LOVE)
Doubt rational decisions (REGRET)
Trust data from a previously unreliable source (FORGIVE)”
This story is all about how Sunny goes from being a robot who can’t fully do those things to a person who can. In the process she discovers that in fact no one is really perfect, no matter what their external appearances suggest. Yet they have children, deal with parents, cope with the losses and triumphs of life, love, and are loved, nevertheless.
Discussion: Not only does Sunny’s husband have Asperger syndrome (AS) but their son Bubber does as well. Sunny has to deal with her anger that Bubber is not “normal,” and of course blames Maxon. Maxon doesn’t understand why Sunny can’t just love Bubber exactly the way he is. Over the course of the book, as she discovers how unrealistic her expectations of “normal” are (in the process learning that among geniuses, this disorder is not so uncommon), she learns that living with “imperfect” in both herself and others is actually the only way to be happy – and to forgive, to have no regrets, and to love.
Evaluation: I loved this book and love this author. She writes with intelligence, enriching stories about families and relationships by riffing on the intersection of science and emotion, and how we know what is real and true. In addition, she clearly has so much heart and compassion for her characters that you can’t help loving them, with forgiveness, and without regret.
Published by St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan, 2012