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A Working Theory of Love

3.31  ·  Rating details ·  2,533 ratings  ·  417 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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3.31  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,533 ratings  ·  417 reviews

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Megan Johnson
Jun 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
I picked this book up on a discount rack probably over a year ago primarily because I liked the cover. It then sat on my shelf as I chose books around it to read, always thinking that maybe I would get to it next but never actually doing then. Then one day I went to choose a book and thought, 'hey, why not?'

...and I am SO glad I did.

This book is the story of a man living in San Francisco working for a company that is striving to create the first intelligent computer. He's not an engineer and d
Benjamin Chandler
Oct 07, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Nov 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 25, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Aug 20, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: netgalley-arc
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
Nov 17, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Aug 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 12, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Larry H
Oct 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
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,
Oct 04, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Neill ist Wissenschaftler und hat den Selbstmord seines Vaters, der jahrelang Tagebuch geführt hat, nie begriffen. Dann füttert er einen speziell programmierten Computer mit den Tagebuchinhalten seines Vaters und beginnt mit ihm zu chatten. Sein Ziel ist es einen Computer zu entwickeln, der auf Basis eines Chats für menschlich gehalten werden könnte.  Dabei erfährt er sehr viel über seinen Vater, der Ehe seiner Eltern und sich selbst, aber auch darüber, wie er mit seiner neuen Beziehung umgehen ...more
Jan 27, 2016 rated it did not like it
dnf at page 40. I'm so bored *yawns*
Oct 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Jul 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Dec 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2012
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
Nov 28, 2012 rated it liked it
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.
I alternated between being so bored with certain segments it was hard to stay awake and being interested in other segments - mainly the dialogue / relationship between Neill, Jr. and Dr. Bassett (the former Neill, Sr.) Outside of that, it was okay, but I wasn't overly impressed.
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.
Feb 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, hardcover, library
3,5/5 - Dieses Buch ist philosophischer als zunächst angenommen, was mir aber sehr gut gefällt. Leider sind für mich die Figuren etwas flach geworden (bzw. deren Geschichten) und an einigen Stellen hat sich das Ganze dann doch zu sehr gezogen.
Orland Outland
Dec 08, 2012 rated it liked it
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
May 23, 2017 rated it liked it
i bought this book for a dollar at the dollar store, one of many that i discovered in an aisle so disorganized i could barely find the tip of my nose. honestly, I'm not mad that i spent the dollar. it took a while for me to get into it, but once i did, i looked forward to reading it. it surprised me that i didn't hate the main character. even more so that i related to his struggle with his father and with his inability to connect to people in any given relationship. i usually despise straight ma ...more
Greg Zimmerman
(Review first appeared at:

I picked up Scott Hutchins' debut novel, A Working Theory of Love, because it sounded like a good facsimile of a Jonathan Tropper novel. And it is, to some degree, but it's more a like a Tropper on downers.

The novel's about mid-30s dude named Neill Bassett, recently divorced and living in San Francisco, and working for a start-up company attempting to bring consciousness to a computer. Neill's a self-deprecating, semi-depressed
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
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
Natalie E. Ramm
Jul 10, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jul 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: general-fiction
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
Yungsheng Wang
Oct 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
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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
“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.” 17 likes
“Not everyone's life will be a great love story.” 9 likes
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