Alissa Nutting is a college professor who teaches creative writing in the Midwest. She's originally from Florida; that background makes an appearance in her work. Nutting is married to another talented novelist.
I first learned of Nutting through a rave review of her recently-published second novel, Made For Love. I'm currently catching up and reading her first novel, Tampa.
The review intrigued me -- “ 'Made for Love' crackles and satisfies by all its own weird rules, subversively inventing delight where none should exist. How can a book be so bright, and so dark?"
The topics wrestled with in Made For Love are of-the-moment contemporary, exploring the environment that technology has created for us. Human relationships, including with our spouses and family, are affected by modern technology in significant ways. I myself have been pondering these very subjects lately as I sense major changes from earlier decades I lived through.
Nutting's talents are many. First, her imagination transports us to places we recognize even though they are extensions of the present. The details of those places are wholly convincing. I wouldn't call her work science fiction because it feels so authentic; instead, it's imagination exercised with a purpose. Seeds of this future already exist; Nutting's fictional world is merely their germination.
The novel starts two years in the future and then jumps around in time. It opens with a woman, Hazel, confronting the fact that her elderly father has a love/sex robot. This is not so crazy as it sounds: technology has reached the point of creating robots capable of human companionship and, yes, even sexual relations. How we feel about a loved one interacting with, even loving an inanimate robot is something we'll all face -- and sooner than you imagine. Just Google the subject and you'll see early prototypes of these objects. A huge market for robotic companions exists among the lonely elderly and others starved of basic human emotion. Widespread use of such robots will create serious concern, debate and, likely, ultimate acceptance.
Another way the main character relates to the subject of technology is through her failed marriage to Byron, an "eccentric tech multimillionaire." His company (named with a wink, Gogol Industries) strives to integrate technological inventions into daily life. Byron, as rapacious in his marriage as he is in business, tries to control Hazel. Her struggle to escape his silicon cage is one most of us can relate to.
Magnifying the pleasure of reading smart exploration of these subjects are Nutting's writing skills. Her style is lucid and witty. She deploys amusing metaphors and language (including my favorite word, penultimate). Candidly, I read much of the book stimulated with a buzz similar to that which comes from a second glass of wine. I laughed out loud at the comic ingenuity of naming a character Fiffany.
The novel is deeply humorous. Its sense of humor has dimension and scope. The book made me realize how satire can weaponize intelligence to explode hardened social realities.
Finally, let me quote a passage from the book which displays the foregoing gifts. Once you read this, you should be only minutes away from clicking on links to buy the book at Amazon:
Hazel thought for a moment. "But I wouldn't have to pretend it was great, right?" Prior to Liver, she'd pretended to be in love with everyone she slept with, at least initially, although that never turned out well. Especially not with Byron. When had she so internalized the feeling that if something wasn't great she needed to bridge the gap between reality and idealism with her own manufactured enthusiasm? Her enthusiasm was like one of those faux snow machines at a ski resort. For most of her life it had been churning out synthetic delight. It had basically forgotten the original recipe.
(Made For Love, page 306)