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Made for Love

Review

Made for Love

In her debut novel, TAMPA, the story of a middle-school teacher's torrid sexual relationship with a 14-year-old student, Alissa Nutting demonstrated that she's not hesitant to tackle edgy subject matter. Her new novel --- one that features a retiree who wants to spend his final days comforted by a lifelike sex doll; a technology mogul bent on melding brains with his reluctant wife; and a young con man who specializes in separating lonely women from their money (at least until he develops an attraction to dolphins) --- shows that she has no intention of backing away from the ledge.

Set in 2019, MADE FOR LOVE is an at times manic, but consistently perceptive, exploration of one deeply flawed but appealing young woman's stumbles as she tries simply to negotiate what for her is the slippery path that separates one day from the next.

Navigating that path among a dysfunctional menagerie of misfits is Hazel Green, on the run from her rich, profoundly weird husband, technology multimillionaire Byron Gogol. Byron's company manufactures consumer products like the Serenity Combination Head Massager/Internet Browser, alongside "futuristic weapons." He makes no secret of his desire for power, and Hazel pictures him as a "cartoon villain." They live at a compound known as The Hub, so barren of any humanity that she comes to think of it as "a holding tank for death, an exact replica of the place where souls go immediately after departure."

"Whether it's Nutting's swift, biting humor or wildly funny scenes like the one involving a drunken Hazel's awkwardly intimate encounter with Diane, she demonstrates a mastery of comic timing and an ability to pump unflagging energy into her plot."

Frankly acknowledging the lifetime of "irreversible wrong choices" that led her, in her mid-20s, following an accidental meeting and a six-month courtship, into a loveless marriage with Byron (their wedding ceremony was performed by a robot), Hazel draws the line at his plan to implant chips in their brains. That step is the prelude to a procedure designed to make them the "first neural-networked couple in history," and she has no intention of waiting in The Hub's antiseptic precincts for that event.

Hazel's panic drives her to an over-55 trailer park in an unnamed state that seems indistinguishable from Florida (especially the Florida of the Twitter feed "Florida Man"), where her widowed father Herbert, a crusty but refreshingly self-aware septuagenarian, has decided to purchase a sex doll he names "Diane." He's motivated primarily by his desire to avoid the inconvenience that befell a friend who died during intercourse and almost suffocated his wife in the process. To Hazel, Diane is a "five-foot four-inch silicone princess" who is a "Penthouse pet from the waist up, Dr. Kevorkian from the waist down."

Hazel falls into a relationship with a man called Liver (his name apt for the organ he’s subjected to lifelong abuse). They meet in a smoke-filled bar, where he's dressed in a vest that "looked like skin that had accidentally peeled off his body long ago, and he'd saved it and eventually glued it back on for nostalgic reasons." Liver gets caught up in Hazel's attempt to escape what she believes are pursuers Byron has dispatched to murder her.

And to round out this chaotic tableau, there's Jasper Kesper. Fresh from using sex to filch the balance of his lover's 401(k) account --- just one in a string of such conquests --- he has a close encounter with a dolphin that unlocks powerful sexual feelings in him for those creatures. When he turns to Gogol's scientists to cure him of his affliction, he's drawn into Hazel's wobbly orbit.

If all this gives the sense that MADE FOR LOVE is something of a thrill ride, that would be a correct conclusion. Whether it's Nutting's swift, biting humor or wildly funny scenes like the one involving a drunken Hazel's awkwardly intimate encounter with Diane, she demonstrates a mastery of comic timing and an ability to pump unflagging energy into her plot.

But what ultimately keeps the novel from jumping the tracks is Nutting's equally firm hold on the human dimension of her story. For all the bad decisions that have led her in desperation to her father's trailer and the arms of Liver, Hazel remains a sympathetic character. That's because, for one, she's so candid in sharing her regret for the "box of damage" that is her life, one "filled up with all the broken things about her and all the bad and shameful choices she'd ever made."

Resisting the temptation to make this a story about the threat of emerging technology or our infatuation with the devices it produces, Nutting instead wants to leave us thinking about how we blunder into circumstances that can only lead to self-inflicted harm. But for all that, she hints, if only tentatively, there's always the hope of a redemptive light at the end of every tunnel.

Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg on July 28, 2017

Made for Love
by Alissa Nutting

  • Publication Date: July 4, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • ISBN-10: 0062280554
  • ISBN-13: 9780062280558