REVIEW: Bellwether by Connie Willis

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Sandra Foster studies fads—from Barbie dolls to the grunge look—how they start and what they mean. Bennett O’Reilly is a chaos theorist studying monkey group behavior. They both work for the HiTek corporation, strangers until a misdelivered package brings them together. It’s a moment of synchronicity—if not serendipity—which leads them into a chaotic system of their own, complete with a million-dollar research grant, caffé latte, tattoos, and a series of unlucky coincidences that leaves Bennett monkeyless, fundless, and nearly jobless. Sandra intercedes with a flock of sheep and an idea for a joint project. (After all, what better animal to study both chaos theory and the herd mentality that so often characterizes human behavior?) But scientific discovery is rarely straightforward and never simple, and Sandra and Bennett have to endure a series of setbacks, heartbreaks, dead ends, and disasters before they find their ultimate answer. . . .

Dear Ms. Willis,

Flipping through what I had loaded on my ereader, I saw this. Science, nerds, chaos theory, Barbie dolls, Management, and sheep sounded interesting so I fired it up. There are no space aliens (sad) but Flip is enough to drive any story line.

Bellwether is charming but low key. It takes a little while to get going as it has a lot of moving parts and characters but the humor is darkly spot on as far as corporate meetings and workplace behavior are concerned. I have *been* to these ghastly required meetings with stupid acronyms like GRIM, where you have to separate into groups and (shudder) role play, and write down 5 things that ultimately mean nothing but all of which make upper management think they’re actually doing something to lead the workers. One character’s habit of sneaking off to the bathroom is brilliant. I think most people who have ever worked will have also run into the coworker who spreads chaos and destruction as they go, yet who also gets promoted up the chain.

The opening bits for each chapter that focus on past trends are fun to read but in all honesty, do people actually get grants to study why the fad of hair bobbing started? Dr. Sandra Foster’s heaps of news clippings (pun intended) about how the 1920s bobbed hair style caught on is just weird enough that I might be willing to believe it. Dr. Bennett O’Reilly’s interest in chaos need look no further than Flip, the slouching employee who misdirects packages, loses mail, tosses research, and forgets to photocopy all 68 pages of the new funding grant requests (due yesterday). The delicious skewering of scientific research had me laughing. The pretentious wait staff and overly complicated drinks menus at the restaurants where Sandra hides out as she looks for newly starting trends sound familiar to places I’ve endured.

Our two main protagonists are sweet and endearing and in spite of any misdirection it’s obvious who will end up with whom. The children’s birthday party makes me glad all my children have had fur and fangs.

This book is relatively short but is fluffy, nice, and easy to read. There aren’t too many surprises but the send-up of corporate culture and touchy-feely parenting methods is more than worth it. Readers might want to brush up on “Toads and Diamonds,” the favorite fairy tale that Sandra gives to her friend’s daughter. Oh, and despite how I’ve seen the novel tagged on GR, it’s not science fiction. B


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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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