Perfect wife, perfect life, right? Not so fast.
Delaney (Believe Me, 2018, etc.) returns with a domestic artificial-intelligence thriller. Five years after an accident, Abbie wakes up covered in bandages and surrounded by machines. The catch? This isn’t the real Abbie; this Abbie is a cobot, or “companion robot.” The real Abbie—a wild, beautiful artist and devoted mother—was never found. Her husband, Tim, a Steve Jobs type complete with God complex and anger issues, owns Scott Robotics, a cutting-edge Silicon Valley darling. Tim has spent half a decade and an enormous amount of resources to bring his wife back. The novel is told from the alternating perspectives of Abbie the cobot, who propels the novel forward, and Scott Robotics employees, who provide a Greek chorus of exposition. Cobot Abbie doesn’t just look like her namesake: She has her thoughts, memories, and voice; feels maternal toward Danny, her autistic son; and begins to learn the original Abbie's secrets. But she also is her own person—well, robot. The tension between the inherited and innate is portrayed nicely, and the ethical questions surrounding Abbie are interesting. If robots are capable of feelings, empathy, and pain, should they have the same rights as humans? If not, how should they be treated? There’s a particularly heartbreaking scene when cobot Abbie makes a bouillabaisse—without senses of taste or smell—and uses rotten fish bones. With shame and despair, Abbie thinks, “Your stock—your beautiful, elaborate, saffron-infused fumet—was poisoned from the start.” To add insult to injury: Artificial smelling technology exists but Tim has cut corners. A fitting metaphor. The twist—or, rather, twists—is genuinely surprising and quite disturbing, but it feels like a slap in the face by taking away what little agency had been given to the female characters.
A well-paced page-turner with a sour ending.