Tell the Machine Goodnight

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what does happiness really mean?

Pearl's job is to make people happy. Every day she provides customers with personalized recommendations for greater contentment. She's good at her job, her office manager tells her, successful. But how does one measure an emotion?

Meanwhile, there's Pearl's teenage son, Rhett. A sensitive kid who has forged an unconventional path through adolescence, Rhett seems to find greater contentment in being unhappy.

Told from an alternating cast of endearing characters from within Pearl and Rhett’s world, Tell the Machine Goodnight delivers a smartly moving and entertaining story about relationships and the ways that they can most surprise and define us. With warmth, humor, and a clever touch, Williams taps into our collective unease about the modern world and allows us see it a little more clearly.

It is a book about happiness the way the sky is a movie about blueness.
— National Public Radio
Following the trajectory of today’s preoccupation with self-help and our perhaps not-entirely-justified faith that technology can fix everything, Williams explores the way machines and screens can both disconnect us, launching us into loneliness, and connect us, bringing us closer to one another. In this imaginative, engaging, emotionally resonant story, she reveals how the devices we depend on can both deprive us of our humanity and deliver us back to it. With its clever, compelling vision of the future, deeply human characters, and delightfully unpredictable story, this novel is itself a recipe for contentment.
— Kirkus, starred review
Williams’s debut, a savvy take on technology’s potential and its moral failings, imagines a near future in which lives are altered by a happiness machine… Williams never allows satire to overtake her story’s moral center or its profoundly generous and humanistic heart, resulting in a sharp and moving novel.
— Publishers Weekly
For all its imaginative and speculative power, Tell the Machine Goodnight is not a particularly futuristic book. Its primary concern is something so fundamentally human that it transcends time—our insatiable need to feel better, to decipher whatever happiness means.
— BookPage
[A] vivid, clever debut.
— O, the Oprah Magazine
With its large heart, compelling cast of characters and frighteningly-not-far-from-reality technology, Tell the Machine Goodnight is a story that will compel you to keep reading, while also allowing you the space to meditate on the understanding that happiness looks different for everyone.
— PopMatters
[An] inventive debut…This timely novel delves into the desire to optimize our messy lives.
— Real Simple
[A] delightfully weird and humorous novel… the novel is a fascinating exploration of our increasing reliance on technology and our obsession with finding a quick fix for everything.
— Shondaland
My prescription for happiness is: ‘Sit still, read a book that can’t be classified by genre, and tell everyone.’ I’m telling you, Katie Williams delivers. Tell the Machine Goodnight transcends categorization in the best way possible – it is part love story, part science fiction, part feminist inspirational wake-up call, and all of it moving and compelling. I never knew what was going to happen and, when I found out, I was always delighted.
— Helen Ellis, New York Times bestselling author of American Housewife
Allow me to introduce you to your new favorite writer. Katie Williams’s Tell the Machine Goodnight plunges into our obsession with technology and its effect on our lives and dreams, and emerges with miraculous gifts for us—she unwraps the present and the future.
— James Hannaham, PEN/Faulkner Award-winning author of Delicious Foods: A Novel
Filled with extraordinary writing, wish-they-existed characters, and unexpected narrative turns, Tell The Machine Goodnight will delight your mind and heart.
— Courtney Maum, author of Touch and I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You
Tell the Machine Goodnight is a captivating, thought-provoking and utterly charming novel about the elusive nature of happiness and the limits of both technology and our own self-knowledge.
— Carolyn Parkhurst, author of Harmony and The Dogs of Babel
Katie Williams’s fierce moral intelligence sparks off the page...Generous, perceptive, intensely smart: Tell the Machine Goodnight is just the novel we need.
— Kirstin Valdez Quade, NBCC John Leonard Prize-winning author of Night at the Fiestas
Tell the Machine Goodnight is philosophical, funny, cleverly structured, unpredictable. The characters are recognizably humans, but not ones I have met before; the world-building is creative and completely convincing. I doubt I will ever read another a novel with a more moving trip up a VR mountain.
— Gabrielle Zevin, New York Times bestselling author of YOUNG JANE YOUNG and THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY