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. Read more...
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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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-04-01
- Reviewer: Staff
Thompson's thoughtful new novel ponders the sins we commit in the name of love and our capacity for compassion. The "detached" life of San Francisco bay area nurse Christie, divorced and in her thirties, is thrown into motion when Mrs. Foster, a wealthy patient, asks her to lead her charity, whose aim is to "benefit humanity" by paying "people to be good." Christie's neighbor, Art, already struggling with adulthood, takes in his troubled teenage daughter, Linnea, after she survives a school shooting in the Midwest. Though her move to California is not the quick fix Linnea's mother had hoped for, Linnea does connect with Conner, a teenage boy from another broken, troubled home, calling their bond an "accidental, lost-in-space collision" and the two of them "a pair of separately damaged goods." The disappearance of Conner's father finally brings these disparate characters together. Thompson (The Year We Left Home) asks what can we actually do to change the lives of others, and investigates the value of good intentions, finding answers in the emotional lives of richly-drawn characters who do what they must–and what they think they must—in order to help the ones they love. Agent: Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (Apr.)
Intersection of the world-weary
Jean Thompson’s latest compelling and character-driven novel, following 2011’s The Year We Left Home, is set in California, north of the Bay Area, and centers on two dysfunctional single-parent families. The first is headed by Sean, out of work due to a crippling auto accident (initiated by an unfortunate Internet date), and now losing his house to foreclosure. His son Conner, 17, has dropped out of school to become “an amateur thief, an odd-jobs man and hustler”—trying to take up his father’s slack.
The other family consists of Art—an “overeducated and underemployed” 40-year-old with a master’s in English literature whose resumé holds a mélange of jobs including tutor, book reviewer and screenwriter—and his estranged daughter Linnea, whom he hasn’t seen since he moved to California when she was 2. Linnea, now 15, has been traumatized by a school shooting in Ohio, where she lived with her mother and stepfather, and has been handed off to Art to give her a change of scenery as a “test drive, an exile, a visit of uncertain length.”
The lives of these emotionally scarred characters—along with a few others, including Art’s friend Christie, a nurse, and Mrs. Foster, a wealthy widow who is one of Christie’s home-visit patients—intersect in surprising ways, which are gradually revealed in chapters written in their alternating voices. Thompson involves the reader immediately in her characters’ unpredictable situations, each chapter offering a new glimpse into their intertwined lives—resulting in a pithy, psychologically astute and highly entertaining novel.