Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Review: MADE FOR LOVE, by Alissa Nutting
A woman runs away from her techonut husband while her elderly father finds companionship in a sex doll and another man becomes attracted to dolphins in Alissa Nutting's funny, twisted and thoroughly delightful new novel.
Made for Love; what does it mean? Hazel's father's doll was manufactured for sex; Hazel herself becomes an object in the eyes of her husband, there to be used for his experiments; and Jasper has created of himself a character who pretends to love women while he steals from them. But at a metaphorical level, or literal if you're religious, the human soul as made for love is a religious concept that reaches back to the Bible. Pope John Paul II said "A person's rightful due is to be treated as an object of love, not as an object for use." All three main characters, and many of the minor ones, have to learn this lesson over the course of this strange and wonderful book.
At the outset, Hazel, a young woman in her thirties, abandons her marriage to Byron Gogol. He is founder of a tech company looking to take over the world, or at least the people in it, through the introduction of more and more intrusive technology. Finally he wants to "meld minds" with his wife, in one-sided arrangement that would give him access to her every thought but give her nothing in return. His incursions start out with low-level technostalking when they first meet and escalate to monitoring her without her knowledge 24/7. She wants out; what started out as a loveless marriage for money has become something frightening and deeply threatening and now, hiding at her father's house, she believes Byron will eventually kill her rather than let her go.
At the same time her father, who is more ill than he lets on, has taken up with a sex doll named Diane and wants to live out his remaining time in a fantasy world of plastic love. He lets Hazel stay with him for the time being, but only if she agrees to buy him a second doll.
Then there's Jasper, a con artist and gigolo who gets a number done on him after an encounter with a dolphin changes him in a way he struggles to come to terms with, first through employment at an aquarium and later through Gogle-sponsored surgery. Eventually all three characters come together, but not in any way I expected.
I'm calling this book science fiction because it is deeply concerned with the ways technology affects our lives, and portrays a current-day or near-future world in which technology is threatening to become hyper-intrusive, a world in which we have literally no privacy, not even the privacy of our own thoughts. The beating heart of the narrative is Byron Gogle's company, the extension of his self with its wireless tentacles stretching out, trying to enclose everyone in his life just as a start. Byron/Gogol's grasping is desperate and needy and belies Byron's blasé, blank affect; there's more going on with him than we see, but the whole point is that he is the one character whose interior life we will never see, and that's the way he wants it. As his tentacles get closer and closer to our protagonists I was feeling a real tension and suspense, wondering how this was all going to turn out.
The ending is quick but satisfying; an otherwise throwaway character saves the day, and those that remain move on to uncertain but somehow better futures. I really enjoyed Made for Love; it was quirky, hilarious, edgy and at times outlandish, but it kept me reading and held my attention, which is saying a lot for audio fiction. Suzanne Elise Freeman's expert narration helped a lot too; she is expressive and charismatic and brought the words to life. If you have a slightly off-kilter sense of humor and are ready for the unexpected, Made for Love is a great choice for you.
FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary audio listening copy from libro.fm.