November 6, 2012

Goodbye for now by Laurie Frankel

Goodbye for Now: A Novel

Once again, here I am, shamelessly stealing an image from Amazon. I wonder if they could prosecute me for this. Please don't, Amazon. I mean no harm. I am just lazy. 

I read this over the weekend. Very intriguing. Short blurb:

Sam creates an algorithm for love, finds his soul mate--Meredith, and is fired from his job at a dating website because their registration fees are through the roof, but no one pays monthly fees, since they find their soul mate first go. Then Meredith's grandmother dies and since he is unemployed and wants Meredith to be happy again, figures out a way for Meredith to email her dead grandmother and get a response. 

This isn't supernatural. He just takes all the email they ever exchanged, creates an algorithm and it generates a response modeled on what her grandmother would probably have said based on what she said in similar situations in the past. Once he figures that out, what about video chat? Soon he has a projection of Meredith's grandmother, based on the accumulation of video chats they did in lifetime. It takes the grandmothers email account, her video chats, her browsing history, her purchases into account. This projection has the mannerisms, the voice, and responses of Meredith's Grandmother. So Meredith pushes to establish RePose, a service that will recreate a dead loved one in virtual form. They do. Business prospers. 

End of blurb. Read the book for more.

This was a funny book, well the first half anyway. I liked Meredith and Sam. The writing was well done. BUT I still didn't like it overly much. I have decided I like books that are like lullabys--comforting, reassuring, reconfirming a tomorrow and the goodness of life. Basically vanilla ice cream books. That is not to say I don't like a little grit in my books. But I want the end to be such that I walk away feeling like life is good. It has its highs and lows, but ultimately it is good. This book had a fairly wide open ending. That is another thing I am not fond of. Sure I can imagine the characters all sorting themselves out. But, surprisingly, I thought that was the authors job. 

And too, this book dealt a lot with death and dying. Surpise, surprise, since it deals with a business about recreating virtual projections of dead loved ones. I am not a fan of death and dying. I start imaging myself in those situations--leaving kids behind, losing kids, losing a husband, losing close family. And my imagination is uncomfortably vivid. 

Most interesting about this book was the idea of a virtual you being left here after you die. All your facebook posts, your blog posts, your pictures, your browsing history, your purchases. All that stuff is here to stay indefinitely. Does this make it harder or easier for people to mourn? This is not a quantifiable question. You can't compare mourning from the 50's to now. Every death is different with complex circumstances. No two people will mourn the same. Even for the same person. 

This is something I have thought about. Even with my blog posts. These suckers will stick around. I can't just rant about something or trash somebody and think that it will go away. My kids will probably still be able to see this when they grow up. I can't complain about them. I might be mad at Justin, but my anger doesn't last, so I can't put that in a post because a post does last. It really makes you consider what you put out there on the internet. How it will be viewed posthumously  And creepily, how anyone who really wants and has the no how can go see all that stuff now. I googled myself the other day and all the pictures that I have ever put on my blog popped up. (Well once I made the computer stop googling Bethany Cotton, which is not me. Apparently there aren't many other Bethaney Cottens out there.) That sort of freaked me out. Fortunately, I don't think anyone cares. 

Point is, with technology, we are leaving a lasting impression. Some people who were dying in this book were comforted by that--their wisdom and accumulated knowledge was not just dying with them. It used to be just authors and prolific letter writers who left words behind. Now everyone does. Does this change our perception of death? Does it make it easier on those left behind? The technology to make RePose does not exist. But it is within the realm of possibility. Will it make it harder for people to move forward? What would prevent people from hacking video chat so you are chatting with a believable projection of your live brother that says what someone else wants it to say to you? Is this technology ethical? 

It sort of creeped me out in the way robots do. I want discernible lines between real and not real. This technology blurs that line into oblivion. Maybe your brother died, but hey, you can still video chat with him and cook dinner with him via video chat every night like you used to. But technology can't fool the heart. It seems like every time you close video chat it would be a fresh pang of sorrow knowing that he is actually gone forever and you are just pretending with a stale version of him that can't even comprehend that you are a completely different person than they ever knew because now you are grieving for them. 

What do you all think? This might be like those books about the future that had people hovering to work and  jetting to the moon for the weekend. May never happen. Still, it is worth thinking about.   

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