Sweetness #9

In 1973, David Leveraux begins his career as a flavorist, one of a growing number of chemists who re-create taste through science. Life couldn't be better. He recently married his college sweetheart, Betty; his job offers the promise of financial security; and he's just embarked on an exciting round of animal testing for a new calorie-free sweetener called Sweetness #9. When testing doesn't go as well as expected, David suspects the company of trying to cover up negative side effects of Sweetness #9. Voicing his suspicions leads to termination, marital strife and time in a mental hospital.

Ernst Eberhardt visits David in the hospital to offer him a job at FlavAmerica, which gives him the chance to leave Sweetness #9 in the past (though Betty has become a devotee of the product). By the late '90s, David is back on top, but then his daughter decides to write about the alleged dangers of artificial sweeteners for her school paper and David is unwillingly forced to face his past. In the meantime, an anonymous stranger begins sending him packets of Sweetness #9, an action he reads only as menacing. David must ask himself what his silence has cost his family, his conscience and his country.

Stephan Eirik Clark's first novel riffs neatly on a national paranoia but, as in any successful satire, grains of truth ground his elements of the ridiculous. Against the dark humor of the flavor industry, David's inability to connect with his family or find meaning in his suburban paradise is a particularly frank critique of American life. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

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