The Humanity Project, by Jean Thompson, is an appealing, subtle, and somber tone poem on the theme of economic dislocation in contemporary America...it is also a ambitious philosophical novel about the human condition. Despite these serious themes, The Humanity Project is a delightfully compelling story that includes many mordantly humorous and satiric elements. It is sharply critical about the current state of the world and American culture. It offers no solutions, but it does inspire us and we leave the novel with greater understanding, hope, and acceptance. This novel deals with seven main characters with intersecting stories. Each character is beset by some kind of major psychological or economic problem, each a victim or product of some significant trend afflicting contemporary American culture. Most of the characters live in and around Marin Country, in northern California, a place that forms a spectacular backdrop and a place where the author can easily demonstrate the vast economic contrasts between haves and have-nots. Five characters are struggling ordinary working-class people, and two are members of the super-rich. There are also many fascinating secondary characters who add to the plot and theme. Thompson has a gift for making virtually all of her characters seem as authentic as anyone you're likely to meet in real life. Sean is a single dad and a construction worker. He's physically worn down by hard labor and at the bottom of a long economic slide due to the construction slowdown following the 2007 Great Recession. Conner is Sean's eighteen-year-old son. He's a good-looking and academically promising young man who is forced to step up and become a caretaker and the family breadwinner after his father suffers a major auto accident. Linnea is a fifteen-year-old survivor of a school shooting in Ohio that took the life of her stepsister. The trauma puts her into such a psychological tailspin that she can no longer endure living with her mother and stepfather. So Linnea is sent to live with her estranged father, Art, in Mill Valley. He hasn't seen his daughter since she was a toddler. Art is an overeducated, underemployed, pot-smoking washout, a man who is suddenly overwhelmed with the responsibility of becoming the single father of a psychologically damaged teenager. Christie is Art and Linnea's neighbor. She is a thirty-something nurse who has never been married because she has a hard time letting anyone get close to her. She's a remarkably decent woman, conscientious to a fault, a woman who strives to do the right thing by everyone she encounters. Mrs. Foster is a wealthy eccentric elderly widow who is one of Christie's nursing clients. She lives in a grand home with many feral cats because she is fond of taking on odd causes. Her most recent and grandiose endeavor is the creation of a major charitable foundation that she wants to call the "Humanity Project." The only person that Mrs. Foster knows who she feels is humane, decent, and honest enough to understand what the "Humanities Project" might become, and who also might be capable of running it, is her nurse, Christie. Leslie is Mrs. Foster's wealthy daughter. She is appalled that her mother wants to "squander" the family fortune establishing some crazy idealistic charitable foundation. These are the seven main characters whose lives intersect in this novel. Each chapter alternates among the subjective third-person voice of a different main character. Thus we have ample opportunity to delve into the minds of these characters and learn about their motivations and values. I thoroughly enjoyed the hours I spent reading this novel and, perhaps best of all, I couldn't stop thinking about it after I finished. To me that is always the mark of a good book: when the story, the characters, and the theme keep me thoughtfully occupied for many days after its conclusion. For me, another mark of a great book is when I'm absolutely compelled to buy more books by the same author and that is exactly what I did soon after finishing this novel. I have no doubt I will not be disappointed with my new purchases. Jean Thompson is exactly my type of author-technically brilliant, wise, honest, and brazenly realistic. With so much high praise for this novel, you might wonder why I didn't give it five stars. So, the question becomes, why did I subtract a half point. The reason is that I found one of the major plot elements to be jarringly unrealistic, to be precise, far too coincidental and gimmicky. It wasn't enough to ruin the book, but it was significant enough to mark the book down half a point. My favorite scene in the novel is a chapter written in the subjective third person from Mr. Foster's point of view. It describes the ending moments of his life when he encounters Conner working in his garden and accidentally slips slowly into a bush ...and amazingly finds he is extremely contented with just existing as part of the bush. Thompson's prose is intelligent, honest, and realistic. She challenges us to focus on the altruism and decency at the core of human nature, despite exposing us to many of its shadowy and darker details. She wants us to ponder the intersection of economics and virtue. This novel is an ambitious and very realistic portrait of contemporary American life. There is stark unflattering reality, caustic humor, and satire; but there is also hope, love, and acceptance. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but recognize that this type of prose will not appeal to a large audience. If this review has piqued your interest, this book may be exactly what you are looking for.
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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Year We Left Home and A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl, this dazzling novel is hailed as an “instantly addictive...tale of yearning, paradox, and hope.” (Booklist)
After surviving a horrific shooting at her high school, fifteen-year-old Linnea is packed off to live with her estranged father, Art, in California. Art, not much more than a child himself, doesn’t quite understand how or why he has suddenly become responsible for raising a sullen—and probably deeply damaged—adolescent girl. And although Linnea has little interest in her father, she becomes fascinated by the eccentric cast of characters surrounding him: Conner, a local handyman whose own home life is a war zone, and Christie, her neighbor, who has just been given the reins to a bizarrely named charity fund, the Humanity Project. As the Fund gains traction and Linnea begins to heal, the Humanity Project begs the question: 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.The Humanity Project - eBook
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The Humanity Project, ...
Jean Thompsons latest...
Jean Thompson's latest novel, The Humanity Project, follows the lives of several forlorn people in the Bay area. Sean and Connor, his son, are about to lose their home. Sean is handyman who is unable to find enough work to support them. Then, after contacting a woman on Craig's List, he is in a mysterious car accident that leaves him in even worse condition. Now he is crippled and unable to work. Connor has to give up his dreams of higher education. He turns to petty theft and ends up becoming a handyman to an older woman, Mrs. Foster. Christie, a home healthcare nurse, is named by Mrs. Foster, a wealthy patient and extreme cat lady, to head a foundation she wants to bequest to pay people to be good to each other. She wants to call it The Humanity Project. Christie's awkward neighbor, Art, an unambitious adjunct professor, struggles to establish some kind of social connection with people. His teenage daughter, Linnea, is sent out to live with him after surviving some mysterious school shooting in Ohio. Linnea and Connor eventually meet and become friends. So, if all of this sounds depressing, honestly The Humanity Project is depressing as it focuses on this group of various individuals who are doing what they can just to survive. It focuses on some of the major social issues people are facing today: poverty, broken families, violence, estrangement, alienation, homelessness, drug abuse. While focusing on the problems her characters are facing, Thompson is also exploring how much their plight and struggles are directly related to their economic circumstances. No answers are provided as we follow her characters, which are not entirely likeable.What works is Thompson's superb writing. Even while I was questioning the train-wreck that is every interconnected character's life in this novel, Thompson's ability to render these characters in a very realistic manner allowed me to feel some empathy with their plight. Yes, their lives are a mess and I really wondered how The Humanity Project, which is brought up at almost the half-way point of the book, was going to become a driving force of change. It isn't. It is an idea, a concept, but it isn't brought to fruition in this novel. The ending does offer further explanation on several occurrences and some semblance of closure, but this is not a feel-good happy ending kind of novel.The rating of The Humanity Project becomes problematic in some ways. It is rife with characters that are down trodden by life and not fulfilled in any way. It is extremely well written and a compelling social commentary, but not an easy book to read. In some ways it felt much longer than the actual pages. Additionally, since it is hard to become totally enmeshed with the characters, I always felt some disconnect with them. This is a serious book.Highly Recommended, but I know it may not be a good choice for everyoneDisclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Blue Rider Press via Netgalley for review purposes.
A good read. Although...
A good read. Although the connections between the characters are a bit implausable, it's a rich, interesting book. Worth getting a copy I could mark up.
This book held me up u...
This book held me up until the ending. Then it was like it lost all its salt! Blah... Or maybe I just didn't get it?!
The Humanity Project...
"The Humanity Project" of the title actually didn't make much of an impression on this reader, but the family relationships that were explored made this an enjoyable and thoughtful read. At her best, Thompson captures the telling details of real life, allowing her characters to live in the reader's mind after the book is closed.
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