Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sweetness #9

Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark
Little, Brown and Company: 8/19/2014
eBook, 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316278751

It's 1973, and David Leveraux has landed his dream job as a Flavorist-in-Training, working in the secretive industry where chemists create the flavors for everything from the cherry in your can of soda to the butter on your popcorn.
While testing a new artificial sweetener—"Sweetness #9"—he notices unusual side-effects in the laboratory rats and monkeys: anxiety, obesity, mutism, and a generalized dissatisfaction with life. David tries to blow the whistle, but he swallows it instead.
Years later, Sweetness #9 is America's most popular sweetener—and David's family is changing. His wife is gaining weight, his son has stopped using verbs, and his daughter suffers from a generalized dissatisfaction with life. Is Sweetness #9 to blame, along with David's failure to stop it? Or are these just symptoms of the American condition?
David's search for an answer unfolds in this expansive novel that is at once a comic satire, a family story, and a profound exploration of our deepest cultural anxieties. Wickedly funny and wildly imaginative, Sweetness #9 questions whether what we eat truly makes us who we are.

My Thoughts:

Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark is a highly recommended fictional novel that is ostensibly about a flavorist, but in reality begs us to question the true safety of the processed and chemically altered foods we eat.

Sweetness #9 begins in 1973 when David Leveraux accepts a job at  a major company which is conducting animal testing on its soon to be released product: an artificial sweetner called Sweetness #9. David is excited about his beginning career, knowing that, hopefully, he will soon advance out of animal testing and move into breakfast cereals. But a kink happens when David notices the results of the consumption of Sweetness #9 on his rats... and a co-worker's primates. It seems that the artificial sweetner is causing a lot of harm for something that is going to be released on the market soon. When David tries to bring his concerns to the boss-men on the fifth floor, he's fired.

After struggling for a while, David is eventually offered another flavorist job at a different company. His life continues on, he has a family, and the story jumps into the nineties.

Clark does an excellent job raising questions about the safety of the manufacture products full of chemical additives we ingest on a regular basis, along with all the dyes, preservatives, etc. Written as a novel, it is at the heart of the matter, a social satire. All of the characters are likely showing signs of being poisoned by Sweetness #9 (or other additives). The prevalence of additives in almost everything we eat and drink (unless you are consuming all whole foods and organic) will certainly touch a nerve with most readers.

Alternately, since this is fiction, you will also wonder how many and exactly what facts have been exaggerated to make a point. He also keeps it humorous, even when tackling a serious question, which makes the novel a pleasure to read.

I found it rather amusing when Clark asked the question "Were we really a country that couldn't even cut its own cantaloupe anymore?" Okay, some people can't or won't take the time to cut their own fruit, but someone is cutting up the produce for them. (And some unnamed reviewer might just have a part time job doing just that, cutting up fruit and vegetables, that pays pretty good. So is it truly a sad commentary on our lives or simply consumerism at work?)

Sweetness #9 is entertaining, but not without a few problems. I guess my main problem was with the end when the plot seems to jump off onto a new tangent and toward a conspiracy theory. My qualms with the novel were nicely offset and balanced with Clark's superior writing ability and sense of the absurd in the juxtaposition of some of the facts and characters.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Little, Brown and Company via Netgalley for review purposes.

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