In 2020, a company introduced Moxie, a dystopian “social support robot” designed to help kids learn human interaction. As we wrote at the time, this super creepy product resembles something out of a Black Mirror episode. In a day and age in which children are forced to wear masks when they interact with their peers, what Moxie offers is in some ways more social than what is available in actual social settings. This may be a selling point for Embodied, the company that makes Moxie, but it certainly does not inspire confidence in the direction our once great society is heading.
I have no idea if Kazuo Ishiguro, the Nobel Prize-winning author who wrote Klara and the Sun knew specifically about Moxie when he was coming up with his latest book. Presumably he researched similar “advancements” in child development technology enough to know that such products are on the horizon. The result is a touching, nuanced depiction of what “life” would be like for a social support robot, and what that means for the human world that welcomes it.
The titular Klara in Klara and the Sun is the story’s protagonist, an “Artificial Friend” or “AF,” and the story is told from her first-person perspective. From the get-go Ishiguro puts the reader in her shoes, establishing a world in which few things are truly certain. The AF’s in the book are programmed with an artificial intelligence, but their core function is comforting and supporting the growth of a human child. There are certain things we take for granted that are completely unknown to Klara, and the first few chapters are critical in helping us understand the way Klara “thinks.” As soon as that perspective is fortified, Ishiguro proceeds with the main story.
After days of waiting in the store for her lucky day, Klara is purchased by the mother of a sick girl to be her artificial companion. Turns out this is a more difficult assignment than that given most AF’s, and the reader comes to question what exactly are Klara’s responsibilities—if any—as a robot to aid in her convalescence. She certainly goes above and beyond what the girl’s parents expect of her, which, as it turns out in a major twist, is actually quite a lot.
It is hard to discuss the themes of Klara and the Sun without including spoilers, since it is such a simple tale whose enjoyment comes from the gradual understanding of the world Ishiguro is painting. It is not quite the world we live in, or at least not yet, but our world is certainly recognizable in it. The adults in the novel make several decisions that would be controversial but nowhere near unthinkable if presented as options today. After reading Klara and the Sun, one can only wonder: Is this where we are heading? And if so, how do we prepare?
The most impressive thing about this short novel is that the author manages to be neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the situation detailed. When I first read the description, Luddite that I am, I was prepared to hate Klara and hope for characters to start smashing the AF’s before Skynet takes over. If you come to the book from this viewpoint, I don’t expect you to necessarily change your mind about the inherent value of Artificial Friends. But similar to watching the HBO series Westworld, you might come away with more sympathy for the robots than expected. Most importantly, you may realize that there are certain things that are obvious to a nascent species of intelligence that humankind seems to have forgotten along the way.
Klara and the Sun is certainly a book written for its time, and in future years may be viewed as downright prescient. If the implications of products like Moxie interests you, then I definitely recommend it. I have not read Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go, the Ishiguro novels that are regarded as classics, but I enjoyed this enough that I certainly will.
Book Review: ‘The Final Girl Support Group’
Release Date: July 2021
Cozy up on your next snow day and read Gary Hendrix’s The Final Girl Support Group.
Author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires (2020), Grady Hendrix succeeds again in tapping into our favorite horror films to deliver this mystery. Six young women make up the “Final Girl Support Group.” Each survived horrific massacres that have been turned into successful film franchises. Movies such as Friday The 13th and Halloween actually happened in this version of America. Twenty years later the spotlight has moved on and society has found new monsters and victims. Still, these women sit in a circle of chairs in a church basement trying to figure out how to live their lives. Paranoid Lynnette Tarkington reluctantly participates in group therapy sessions with Dr. Carol Elliot along with fellow survivors Marilyn Torres, who has buried her emotions in wealth; Dani Shipman, who might have killed the wrong person; Julia Campbell, whose encounter left her in a wheelchair; and Heather DeLuca, who is succumbing to addiction. Some of them are in denial about what happened. Some still live in terror, always looking over their shoulders, imprisoned by their own fears.
After one member of this vigilant sisterhood is murdered and a series of persistent attacks threaten the rest, Lynnette becomes increasingly suspicious that the attacks are originating way too close to their inner circle. “Does this ever end?” Lynnette asks. “Will there always be someone out there turning little boys into monsters? Will we always be final girls? Will there always be monsters killing us? How do we stop the snake from eating its own tail?” The book is creepy enough on its face, but Hendrix’s use of narrative tools heightens the unease.
The Final Girl Support Group isn’t necessarily scary, but the plot is action-packed and delivers its share of gore. The novel is an ultimately entertaining and inspiring take on horror movies, trauma, and self-determination. Available on Amazon!
Book Review: ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’
I first read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo this past month after my friend and I swapped our favorite summer books. I opened the book one Saturday morning and couldn’t put it down. Despite the fact that it was published nearly five years ago, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo continues to captivate readers’ interest on BookTok, Bookstagram, and Goodreads.
This story is about renowned Hollywood actress Evelyn Hugo who, after decades of blockbuster hits, is now 79 and ready to give an exclusive interview after years of dodging the press. But the only one granted access is a little-known journalist named Monique Grant. Though she can’t understand why she’s been chosen, Monique goes to Evelyn’s home and finds out Evelyn doesn’t just want to do an interview — she wants to lay out every piece of her truth for Monique to write and sell her biography.
Though Evelyn won’t answer why she picked Monique to do the job, Monique agrees and Evelyn’s story begins to unfold from her calculated beginnings in Hollywood to the millions she enjoys in the present, each section of her life titled by each of her seven husbands and her reasons for marrying (and divorcing) them. As you journey through Evelyn’s life, it feels as if you’re being granted exclusive access to something you shouldn’t be seeing. It’s hard to believe the characters and events in this book aren’t real celebrities.
To me, a great book is one that makes you forget you’re reading in the first place, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo does exactly that. It’s an instantly captivating book, thanks in part to the story, but mostly to Taylor Jenkins Reid’s writing. Her stories flow smoothly, her characters are complex and realistically flawed, and I happily got lost in the pages until the very end. This is the perfect cozy fall read!
Book Review: ‘Verity’ By Colleen Hoover
Colleen Hoover is all the rage this summer. The author’s 2016 romance novel It Ends With Us gained fame due to the viral nature of #BookTok (the book lover’s community on TikTok). I’ve always loved reading, especially during the summer months by the beach and pool. Surely because of this, my “For You Page” has been flooding with recommendations and reviews as to what to read next. I can without a doubt say that Verity is worth the hype.
Verity was first published in 2018 and has only just become available worldwide in paperback. I started reading Colleen Hoover last summer when I first discovered It Ends With Us on #BookTok and have read four of her other books since. Given that I finished this one in a day, I would say it is extremely readable!
Verity is different from Hoover’s usual style and genre of romance. This novel is twisting, unsettling, creepy, and psychologically mind-bending. From the beginning, I could not put it down. The plot follows protagonist, Lowen Ashleigh, a struggling writer who accepts a job offer to complete the remaining books of an unfinished, successful series. Jeremy Crawford, the husband of bestselling author Verity Crawford, has hired Lowen due to his wife’s serious injuries. Lowen arrives at the Crawford home, ready to sort through years of Verity’s notes and outlines, hoping to find enough material to get her started. What Lowen doesn’t expect to uncover is an unfinished autobiography Verity never intended for anyone to read. With shades of Gillian Flynn blending in with Hoover’s classic take on romance, our protagonist finds herself uncovering a story so horrifying, and all the while, falling for a grieving man. There is a thrilling twist at the end, which I am happy to debate, but I’m not giving any spoilers until you read it for yourself! Overall, I highly recommend the purchase. Find it on Amazon.