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A Working Theory of Love

3.33 of 5 stars 3.33  ·  rating details  ·  1,945 ratings  ·  358 reviews
Settled back into the San Francisco singles scene following the implosion of his young marriage just months after the honeymoon, Neill Bassett is going through the motions. His carefully modulated routine, however, is soon disrupted in ways he can’t dismiss with his usual nonchalance.

When Neill’s father committed suicide ten years ago, he left behind thousands of pages of
Hardcover, 328 pages
Published October 2nd 2012 by The Penguin Press
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Narrative drive is a mysterious thing. Fiction with narrative drive is supposed to be all about cliff-hanger plots that reveal, in a step-by-step fashion, the set-up for a gristly murder, saving the crucial piece of information -- the identity of the killer -- for the final page. The function of this kind of storytelling is supposed to be merely to provide a few hours of vacuous escape. The rest of us are supposed to be reading primarily to enjoy the resplendent sentence structure of the literar ...more
The New Yorker had cited this novel in a short list of notable books released this month. I liked the sound of the plot, and liked even more the praise it was given by the reviewers. I downloaded the first couple pages and was intrigued. The writing style was snappy, detailed, and hinted at bigger things.

In short, the novel's plot follows a young man who is working on an artificial intelligence program based on his deceased father's copious journals. (So, in a sense, the AI program has his fath
I took a gamble on this book, and unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy the book very much at all. Its premise certainly sounded promising - a thirty-something divorced man joined a computer company, with the extensive journals of his deceased father in hand, in their goal in creating the first A.I. system to pass the Turing test. The manner of Neill’s father’s death further complicated matters for Neill and drove most of the plot along as Neill reconciled himself with the actions of his father. But thi ...more
I found this to be a unique reading experience. I vascillated between thinking, "this is fantastic" to "I don't know if I can finish this book." What I found is that I really liked certain themes and threads, and really disliked others. I loved the conversations between Neill and the computer, and loved the family themes, particularly the main theme about coming to terms with the suicide of a loved one. I thought the relationship between Neill and his mother was the most interesting aspect of th ...more
Cheryl McNeil
What an original story! It’s a romance, but my techie-scifi husband is even saying it’s on his list to read. It should definitely appeal to men and women equally. The main character is a man in his thirties, floundering in many ways after his divorce and his father’s suicide. He’s got daddy issues (join the club!), and he ends up working on them not with a shrink, but with the incarnation of his dead father in an artificially intelligent computer that has all his dad’s diaries inputted. It’s a w ...more
Bennett Gavrish
Grade: A-

L/C Ratio: 80/20
(This means I estimate the author devoted 80% of his effort to creating a literary work of art and 20% of his effort to creating a commercial bestseller.)

Thematic Breakdown:
35% - Love
25% - Artificial intelligence
20% - Family
10% - San Francisco
10% - Divorce

The emphasis on computer science in the plot of Scott Hutchins's debut novel will probably scare some readers away, afraid that the book is geeky sci-fi masquerading as literary fiction. And that's a shame, because A Wo
I tried, oh Lord did I try. I got to page 111, but then the self-absorption and passivity of the narrator became too much for me. At times the narrative drew me in, when Neill was talking about the past: his relationship with his father, his honeymoon, but Neill in the present destroyed it.

Sometimes I think it's me. This tends to happen when I read books that I'm told are deep and intimate portraits of humanity. I just want to smack the main character over the head. And, wow, did I want to smac
Aug 12, 2012 Kate rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: book clubs
I liked this book, but I didn't love it.

I think that has a lot to do with the main character's apathy. That being said, I did love the evolving computer, the way Neill perceived his co-workers, and how those perceptions changed, and the flashbacks to his childhood.

I wasn't as crazy about his jumbled love life, or the tangents he used to go on with his ex-wife.

It seems that this novel attempted to connect present love life with former family life, and while all the of the pieces were there, the c
Bei "Eine vorläufige Theorie der Liebe" habe ich zunächst eine schöne, humorvolle Geschichte erwartet. Meine Erwartungen wurden dabei nicht wirklich erfüllt, allerdings habe ich dafür eine recht melancholische und nachdenklich stimmende Geschichte erhalten, mit der ich ebenfalls gut leben konnte. Die Ereignisse rund um das Computerprogramm, Neill, Rachel und den anderen Figuren hat mir ganz gut gefallen, allerdings wurde hier auch stellenweise zu sehr der Fokus auf Neills Midlife-Crisis gelegt, ...more
I don't read a lot of fiction set in the Bay Area. So I was struck by the descriptions of the Mission and the people hanging out at Dolores Park. Or the feeling of driving through Menlo Park. Or the way the light feels at the end of the day. Clearly Scott Hutchins benefitted from his time at Stanford. Hutchins' ability to convey the emotions and atmosphere of a place ground this story very specifically in this time and place. As a result, they give the protagonist of this novel a framework, as h ...more
This book nearly got a three star review, but it fell just short.....A little better than ok, but not by much, which sucks because I really wanted it to be more than it was.

Let me start with positives. I liked the narrator. The setting was San Francisco, and I believe that the author NAILED the perspective of a person coming from the South to live in an urban enviornment. The things that Neill says throughout that mention his childhood and Arkansas let me know that the author had to be raised in
Larry Hoffer
Relationships can be complicated. Neill Bassett knows this well. His marriage imploded nearly as soon as it started, despite the fact he and his wife dated for a long time before getting married. And his relationship with his father, a strict, traditionally Southern doctor, was definitely fractious until his father committed suicide while Neill was in college.

Yet Neill's father isn't quite out of his life. When he died, he left behind thousands of pages of journals chronicling daily occurrences,
Jul 01, 2012 Peter rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Light readers, Teen upwards, Deep-thinkers
I won this book in Goodreads First Reads Program, but that in itself in now way prejudices my opinion of it.

In this book I suspected something quite... well I suppose the best word that comes to mind is dry. However, I was pleasantly surprised. "A Working Theory of Love" blends Romance (with a capital r), mid-life crisis and just a hint of sci-fi. Truly an unexpected combination and an even better follow through. I would recommend this for light readers, and also those looking for something deep
This book grabbed me right away. I liked Neill Bassett's character. He's 36 years old, divorced, lives in San'd think he's old enough to figure out his life by now, except that he doesn't. He starts working for a tech company that wants to create an artificial intelligence that is able to reason and interact as if it's human. The program is using Neill's dead father's massive journals as the framework for its intelligence. As Neill continues testing the program, he gets to know m ...more
This is one of those books that spent its entirety teetering on the edge of something brilliant and the edge of something awful, while staying firmly rooted in the purgatory of the mundane. The concept of the artificial intelligence and the psychological toll of talking to your deceased father-but-not colored my reading experience like brilliantly flavored droplets, which is why I kept reading. There was some humor, mostly within that "lovable blundering lost soul with just enough elements of as ...more
Scott Hutchins' debut novel is a deep exploration of a complicated father-son relationship within the confines of a sci-fi tale. Shades of a kind of writing that is reminiscent of good ol' Nick Hornby, though Hutchins doesn't particularly try to make things funny.

3 and a half stars. Worth a read.
Margit Sage
Aug 24, 2014 Margit Sage rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who has lived and loved, and/or lost a parent.
I've never read a book like this before. What do I mean by that? Well, for one, this book is honest about the messiness of relationships, and all of the questions and self-doubt that occurs for most of us. Hutchins sprinkles hilarity throughout to lighten the seriousness of Neill's journey through relationships. I laughed, hard. I shed a few tears. Many times, I came across a sentence or paragraph that caused me to stop and think for a while. This is the type of book that causes the reader to dr ...more
I have no idea, people. I think I liked it but I do not know why. I skimmed some parts because it got a bit dull. I went along for the ride but wish we had taken a different route.

My favorite parts, the thing that brought me back after I set the book down for days, were the conversations with the Doctor/computer.
Manoel Elpidio
The gravest and most unprofessional sin of A Working Theory of Love is one that every author should have in mind when writing any piece of fiction, and something that Hutchins simply ignores: we, as readers, need characters (and more specifically, protagonists) that move forward in their journeys and carry the plot on with them. No one wants to read about the life of a stone, something that remains on the same spot over time and does nothing about its shortcomings (which, for a stone, we are saf ...more
Eh. The premise of this novel had promise. A divorced man in his mid-thirties ends up working for a start-up tech company trying to create the world's first "intelligent computer" by passing the so-called Turing Test: fool judges that it is human 30% of the time. His father, who committed suicide, kept copious journals for most of his life, thus creating a foundation that spans most of a lifetime to feed to the computer to give him personality. He also gets involved with a pseudo-sexual, religio ...more
Melina O.
I was not a fan of the book, at all. The last 50 pages of the book were me skimming through paragraphs and not really reading. I invested so much time on this character, Neill, and on his love life that I kind of hate myself for trying.

The story is about a guy in his early thirties coming to grips with his failed marriage, failed love life, and failed relationship with his father who committed suicide. His dad apparently has a bunch of diaries that become part of some computer program that will
Pretty solid story from cover to cover. I could see where Hutchins was coming from, in terms of self discovery, self loathing, living up to the expectations of family, etc. I felt that at times Hutchins was little too self loathing, but in this day and age, a 36 year old, divorced, and having a father who committed suicide, a little self doubt and loathing will creep up, but Hutchins took it a little too far. I really didn't know if I liked Neill or not. I liked Rachel. I liked Livorno. I liked ...more
Neill Bassett talks to his father every day. The only problem is that Neill’s father (drbas – computer speak for Dr. Bassett) is dead. He committed suicide and all that Neill is left with are his father’s mostly mundane journals written on yellow legal pads. By a twist of fate, Neill ends up working for Amiante Systems, an artificial intelligence company in San Francisco determined to create the first successful ‘intelligent’ computer and Neill’s father’s journals become the data. It’s a clever ...more
Natalie E. Ramm
Neill's father, Dr. Basset, kept fastidious journals before he committed suicide. And when Amiante Systems uses these journals to create an intelligent computer, they hire Neill to humanize the computer. Daily conversations with his computer-father send Neill's life into turmoil. And when the computer starts to think rather than just relay information, Neill is faced with a bit of an existential crisis. Did he ever really love his father? Could he have prevented his suicide?

While all this crazin
Katie Kenig
Neill has been chatting with his father. They talk about the old days, when Neill was a boy growing up in the south. They talk about Neill's mom and brother, about the neighbour down the road, and about his dad's medical practice.

The only catch is, Neill's dad killed himself in 1995, when Neill was still in college, before Neill was married and divorced, before he moved to California, before he took up permanent bachelorhood. Neill's dad now resides inside of a computer, an attempt at creating A
Sean Kottke
Philip K. Dick wrote in "How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later" that his two central concerns were the questions "What is reality?" and "What constitutes the authentic human being?" This novel takes up the second of those questions in a fictional account of entrepreneurs trying to beat the Turing Test by building an artificial intelligence in a manner similar to the real-life programmers who attempted to resurrect Philip K. Dick robotically in How to Build an Android. As ...more
Orland Outland
Copy/paste from my blog,, where I'm chronicling the development of my own book about AI, "Less Than a Person and More than a Dog."

So I finished Scott Hutchins’ “A Working Theory of Love,” the book that had me panicked into thinking that it was too late for “Less Than” and Alex. And I’m relieved, as I no longer feel beat to the punch. Its AI and more importantly that AI’s place in the world, is a prequel of sorts to Alex, I’d say, but it’s definitely not the sam
1.5 stars, really, but I'll round up.

What is there to say about this disappointing mess? Well, I guess there's that. Hutchins had aspirations, clearly, there was a lot of ambition behind the various storylines surrounding Neill Bassett here, and I really don't think he lived up to them.

To really get into my problems with the book would take 1. Spoilers, and I really hate giving those kind of reviews. 2. Effort, and I simply cannot bring myself to care enough to put in the effort.

I couldn't care
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This book comes out in October, but I got to read a copy early because of the Penguin First Flights program.

I found it impossible to read this book without thinking of Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart*. It isn't exactly the same setting, but the main character and his much younger lover felt like they had been picked up and dropped into this book, with a few little tweaks. It was the most bizarre sense of déjà vu I've had as a reader. I get a little tired of middle aged male protagon
Andrea Mullarkey
Neill has carefully arranged his small post-divorce life to be completely unexceptional. It appears that his set routine, unremarkable apartment, and the job he isn’t particularly passionate about will mark his time through life. But when he becomes involved with a free-spirited younger woman and his work on a family project come to a head at the same time, he is forced to consider that his life may not be very settled after all. The crux of the story is that Neill is paid to run simulations wit ...more
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Scott Hutchins is a former Truman Capote fellow in the Wallace Stegner Program at Stanford University, where he currently teaches. His work has appeared in Story Quarterly, Five Chapters, The Owls, The Rumpus, The New York Times, San Francisco Magazine and Esquire. It has also been--strangely--set to music. He's the recipient of two Hopwood awards and the Andrea Beauchamp prize in short fiction. I ...more
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Buzz Books 2012 From Busan to San Francisco

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“When you spend significant amounts of time with someone they offer constant feedback, becoming part of the patterning of your brain. In other words, part of you. But I take your point -- constant feedback is not always deep feedback. A good measure of how much of you they've become is your level of distress when they're gone. If they form a large measure of your patterning, then you'll experience a major culling of the self. That's what's known as grief.” 16 likes
“Not everyone's life will be a great love story.” 8 likes
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