No Harm Can Come to a Good Man by James Smythe
HarperCollins, Avail Jun 9, 2015
This novel works on so many levels: suspenseful without losing touch with the internal lives of the primary characters, conceptually significant, and very well written. I wasn’t familiar with this author before being provided with an ARC from the publisher but you can bet he’s on my permanent radar now.
No Harm presents a future that seems not so far away. The internet has been harnessed to provide predictions about common life events ranging from what type of rental car someone will prefer to whether they’ll get a promotion. Since every one of us encounters these algorithms while browsing…always a bit creepy when a news site hands me an ad for a shirt I browsed on some other site because it’s so out of touch with where my mind is while reading news articles…the novel’s concept feels real enough.
This is the backdrop of our everyday lives. And for a time, it seems to only be the backdrop of this novel. A man, a good man, decides to run for president only a year after his son drowned in the lake at the family’s second home. His wife and two daughters go along with his plans, supporting him as only a political family can—by tamping down their personalities with more PR-friendly activities. When Laurence’s campaign advisor Amit encourages him to apply for prediction results through ClearVista’s algorithm, his already somewhat difficult race turns tragic.
There’s the fact that ClearVista returns a 0% chance of success…and then there’s the video. Nightmarish for any father, the video shows the country’s worst terror, that of a war veteran who has finally cracked. While Laurence struggles to prove the video’s prediction wrong, Amit takes a twofold path that shores up his own career while trying to shove his candidate back on track. Laurence’s wife works quietly yet with a strength that cannot be questioned to help her husband and save her two remaining children.
The arc follows Laurence down his increasingly fractured decline along with the wife’s staunch support. Only in the final moments is Deanna forced to turn against him. Amit, meanwhile, is the only one to truly take all their fates into his hands and actively work against the prediction and the social machinery that believes in ClearVista with such evangelical fever.
Emotionally gripping and a true novel for our times.