Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Humanity Project

The Humanity Project
Jean Thompson
3 / 5

Published 2013

First Sentence
"We were afraid of so many things: Of our children, who lived in their own world of casually lurid pleasures, zombies and cartoon killers and thuggish music."
Publisher's Description:
After surviving a shooting at her high school, Linnea is packed off to live with her estranged father, Art, who doesn’t quite understand how he has suddenly become responsible for raising a sullen adolescent girl. Art’s neighbor, Christie, is a nurse distracted by an eccentric patient, Mrs. Foster, who has given Christie the reins to her Humanity Project, a bizarre and well-endowed charity fund. Just as mysteriously, no one seems to know where Conner, the Fosters’ handyman, goes after work, but he has become the one person Linnea can confide in, perhaps because his own home life is a war zone: his father has suffered an injury and become addicted to painkillers. As these characters and many more hurtle toward their fates, the Humanity Project is born: Can you indeed pay someone to be good? At what price?

Thompson proves herself at the height of her powers in The Humanity Project, crafting emotionally suspenseful and thoroughly entertaining characters, in which we inevitably see ourselves. Set against the backdrop of current events and cultural calamity, it is at once a multifaceted ensemble drama and a deftly observant story of our twenty-first-century society.

Dear Reader,

For some reason, I was REALLY eager to read this book for quite some time when it first came out.  But, when I finally got my hands on it, it was nothing like I was expecting.  I loved the idea of examining the philosophy behind what makes a person do good in the world, but the story itself was kind of ... superficial.  Very interesting how the book revolves quite a bit around a school shooting, which feels still a little soon and a bit too raw for a lot of people these days.

I got the impression that the book revolved around two single fathers, basically.  One was trying to raise a teen-aged son alone, and was struggling quite a bit to make ends meet.  The other was suddenly raising a teenage daughter who had recently experienced a severe trauma, and who he hadn't seen since she was a baby.  I often got the two men mixed up, though, which made the story a little hard to follow.  The men both felt very pathetic and lost, and their stories seemed strikingly similar.  Which is why it seemed like there was such potential for a good story when their children became friends, as they seemed to have very parallel family situations.  But I don't feel as if the book had much of a focus, and while I enjoyed it as a great character study, the story itself didn't seem to hold up very well.

The title of the book implies that it centers around this "Humanity Project" which the reader finds out (maybe halfway through the book, and rather outside of the main story line) is the name of a foundation which a rich widow starts in order to make the world a better place (yes, that is really what the board is tasked with doing).  Much like the wishy-washy nature of the nonprofit organization itself - they don't ever have much direction - the book also followed a similar and very indecisive path.  I was pretty disappointed, because there seemed like so much great material to work with, but it didn't resolve into much.  I didn't really like any of the characters; they all mostly just annoyed me.  And the book started out with so much promise and intrigue: one of the fathers meets a woman on Craigslist and goes out for a drink with her on one of his last dollars (even while his house is about to be foreclosed on) and ends up seriously regretting the decision.  I won't tell you why, because that is probably one of the best parts of the book, and you'll have to read to find out.  I kind of want other people to read the book, too, and let me know what they think, because perhaps I was just missing something big.  I kept thinking I must be.  Maybe it was just my warped interpretation of the story?

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