“The Perfect Wife” by J P Delaney puts a technology twist on a psychological thriller. I must caution readers that the family includes a child with a significant developmental disability, and the storyline contains some nonstandard intervention strategies.
Delaney immediately pulls readers into the story, using a second person narrative to establish a sense of participation, thus making, even commanding, readers to become involved in the here and now, the complicated present
Abbie Cullen-Scott, wife of technology genius and multimillionaire Tim, is stiff, confused, and immobile with shock. “You’re saying the real me died— what? Five years ago. And you’ve somehow brought me back like this.” She is a robot, a very sophisticated and life-like robot, one capable of fooling many people. Everything seems genuine, her appearance, her conversations, even her signature, but it is all digitally generated, just a facsimile of what she once was.
“It’s incredible how quickly you forget she isn’t real. For a while back there it was just like talking with an ordinary person.”
There is a shift in structure and tone to a first person plural past tense. Someone is speaking to readers or to an unknown interrogator, reporting on events, detailing the workplace, and describing people in the wild world of technology and artificial intelligence. These chapters provide background information, both the innocent and the traumatic, and reveal just how the participants got to where they are in “the now.”
“We were engineers, mathematicians, coders, developing intelligent mannequins for high-end fashion stores— shopbots.”
The narrative continues with verb voices and tenses alternating chapter by chapter. Abbie’s life with Tim gradually evolves through uploaded remembrances, but the past tense chapters reveal that theirs was not the idyllic life that memories have painted. Questions, troubling questions, proliferate and readers cannot help but wonder what is really happening. The “A” in “AI” does not seem to stand for ‘artificial’ anymore but for autonomous. Moreover, Tim runs a tech company; what are the business implications of this robot? What drives Tim? Is it love, devotion, technology, or a cult-like obsession?
Delany adds another complication, a nine year-old child with a significant degenerative disability. Of course, Danny has a personal aide and attends a school specializing in education for students with autism. The school utilizes an intense applied behavioral analysis program. (Note: some extreme approaches described in the book are not part of educationally accepted strategies for students with disabilities.)
Delany raises questions about the future of technology. Could technology enable people to live forever? Could people work endlessly with just replacement parts as needed? Would this be a person or a marketable commodity owned by a corporation? I received a review copy of “The Perfect Wife” from J P Delaney and Ballantine Books. It was both compelling and thought provoking. Perhaps we should be mindful of what we wish for when it comes to technology.