The Happiness Code

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In The Happiness Code, Amy Herrick explores the idea of happiness. Is unremitting cheerfulness a goal to be sought, or does pain, discomfort, and stress teach valuable lessons? In so doing, Herrick raises important questions about the ethics of biotechnology.

Living in mid-twenty-first century, Arthur and Pinky Sorenson have one child, Teddy; she wants another, but he does not. Arthur, unemotional and very rigid, conducts research on genetics at a university. Pinky, imaginative and fanciful, is a painter and a great believer in storytelling to relate experiences and reveal truths. Their son, serious like his father, pursues his own scientific experiments.

The novel opens with a scandal at the university. A research project has been terminated because of the involvement of the director Ken Fishhammer in questionable areas, specifically the search for a human happiness gene. One of his petri dishes has been stolen by Marina, a scientist and a refugee from an unnamed Eastern European country who wants a happy child to offset the tragedy in her life. She enlists the help of her colleague Arthur who makes his contribution in a jelly jar. The result is the unnatural Bernard. Upon her accidental death, her sister surreptitiously delivers the baby to the Sorensons.

Now employed by Venturetech, Fishhammer, realizing the fortune to be made, kidnaps the infant and begins brutal experiments to determine the extent of the child’s serenity. Bernard must be rescued from evil forces, and for his own well being, the happiness gene must be disengaged.

Like Herrick’s first book At the Sign of the Naked Waiter (1992), this funny, thought-provoking novel, hints at the magic in everyday life, if only one would notice. The only weakness—Herrick, at times, seems more interested in exploring ideas rather than in developing fully realized characters.