FINALIST FOR 2018 KIRKUS PRIZE
NAMED ONE OF THE "BEST LITERARY FICTION OF 2018' BY KIRKUS REVIEWS
"Sci-fi in its most perfect expression…Reading it is like having a lucid dream of six years from next week, filled with people you don't know, but will." —NPR
"[Williams’s] wit is sharp, but her touch is light, and her novel is a winner." – San Francisco Chronicle
"Between seasons of Black Mirror, look to Katie Williams' debut novel." —Refinery29
Smart and inventive, a page-turner that considers the elusive definition of happiness.
Pearl's job is to make people happy. As a technician for the Apricity Corporation, with its patented happiness machine, 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 Goodnight delivers a smartly moving and entertaining story about the advance of technology and the ways that it can most surprise and define us. Along the way, Katie Williams playfully illuminates our national obsession with positive psychology, our reliance on quick fixes. 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.
Williams's debut, a savvy take on technology's potential and its moral failings, imagines a near future in which lives are altered by a happiness machine. The year is 2026, and Pearl is a technician for Apricity, where she's assigned to analyze and communicate the results of the company's eponymous happiness machines, which read genetic markers and creates individualized formulas for happiness. Her own family's "contentment plan" is not as easy to read: her marriage to Elliot is over, and her teenage son Rhett remains vulnerable, having suffered from an eating disorder for years. Other characters' stories of warped happiness and misbegotten technology spiral out from the central, deeply intimate tale of Pearl's flailing hopes for Rhett's happiness and his own tentative, private steps toward recovery. These include Elliot's self-destructive performance art based on strangers' Apricity readings, Pearl's boss's ill-advised attempts to use Apricity to gain professional status, and other heartbreaking stories about the intersection of technology, tragedy, and regret. Forays into the realms of celebrity commodification and the absurdities of fame notwithstanding, Williams never allows satire to overtake her story's moral center or its profoundly generous and humanistic heart, resulting in a sharp and moving novel.