Review: Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams

Tell the Machine Goodnight
by Katie Williams

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 Goodnightdelivers 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.

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: RIVERHEAD
Publication date: June 19th 2018
Source/Format: eARC/Netgalley
Purchase links: Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Kobo | Book Depository
My Rating: ★★★☆☆

My Thoughts:
The year is 2035. A machine called Apricity exists. It’s a machine which, from a simple swipe of a person’s DNA, recommends a few to-do stuff that will guarantee happiness. Stuff like: Eat tangerines on a regular basis, work at a desk that receives morning light, amputate the uppermost section of your right index finger. It’s entirely up to the person if he/she will actually do these recommendations but you must know that the Apricity boasts of 99.97% customer’s approval rating. And pertinent to my immersion in the book is that Pearl, an Apricity technician, is a firm believer of the technology.

The book follows quite a number of characters: Pearl, the Apricity technician; Elliot, Pearl’s artist ex-husband; Rhett, their teenage son; Carter, Pearl’s boss; Val, Elliot’s new wife; and Calla Pax, a celebrity scream queen. Some PoV are in 1st person while others are in 3rd person. All of them felt lived in characters. I find some of them relatable and some of them understandable. Through them, the book dishes a hodgepodge of thoughts on happiness. At one point, Pearl ponders on the pleasure of doing harm to people who hurt her. As time goes by, she becomes more and more obsessed with Apricity and the things that it can do for her. Both Rhett and Val feels unworthy of happiness. Elliot’s art exhibit depicts that too much of a thing that makes you happy can be awful. Carter’s pride is in being a leader and asserting power over his subordinates. And how fame can both be Calla Pax’s source of empowerment and trauma.

As far as I’m concerrned, the book has no discernible straightforward theme and plot. At it’s best, it can feel episodic with something about happiness and technology as constants. At it’s worst, it feels scattered with too many thoughts about technology and happiness not coming together at all. The book will leave the PoV of a character then shift to another with things still hanging. And when we meet this character again later on, a lot of time has passed and a lot of stuff has apparently happened off the pages and it’s up to the reader to fill up all those gaps. I know a reader should not be lazy but my reading sensibilities can barely handle this too much blankspace. A bit more of details wouln’t hurt so the development of the plot and these characters would not feel shortchanged.

Still, I’m glad I finished the book. The writing is of quality that makes me read and set aside my qualms. It actually made me agree with most of the points it is trying to say. Like how we rely heavily on technology (in our case, smartphones) for almost everything, including happiness. And like how despite the existence of technology which can supposedly make us happy, we are still never truly happy. And sometimes happiness is not pursued, but will come at you in the most unexpected of times and places. Or how sometimes the path to happiness is faking it until you make it, like climbing a virtual reality mountain with its fake mountaintop and fake blue skies.

To end, let me add something extra. I wanna share a hopeful and happy song that came to my mind upon finishing the book:

Diversity Watch:
All PoV characters are racially indeterminate. Zihao, a minor character is Chinese.

A PoV character is bisexual. A policeman side character is gay and has a husband.

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I'd love to hear from you! 
Have you read this book yet? If yes, how did you find it? If not yet, are you planning to?

If a technology such as Apricity exists right now, will you sit and go under the process? From a range of eating citrus fruits to cutting off the tip of your own finger, how far are you willing to do the Apricity recommendations to achieve happiness?

And please, do share one of your favorite happy songs with me.

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