It is a truth universally acknowledged—at least it should be—that the Western diet is crap. So it’s ironic that I read Stephan Eirik Clark’s Sweetness #9 just a month after reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. The book is a fictional memoir of a flavorist who did some of the original testing for an artificial sweetener back in the 1970s before suffering a qualm of conscience.
David Levereaux is a transplanted Englishman in America. As a kid, he studied American culture so that he could fit in. In college, he studied chemistry before going to work for a flavor company as an animal tester—the first rung on the corporate ladder. But when the animals start to grow obese and lethargic, Levereaux voices concerns to the management. They suggest he takes a vacation. The next thing he knows, all the animals have been replaced and no one believes him. His life starts to fall apart. His wife worries and suggests he takes some time at the state psychiatric facility because he can’t get past his fears about Sweetness #9 and his depression over quitting his job.
A few weeks after admitting himself, Levereaux is visited by the president of FlavAmerica. Ernst Eberhardt offers him a job as a flavorist and once again, Levereaux is soon living the American middle class dream. His kids aren’t that fond of him. His wife spends a lot of time trying to lose weight. They’re all pretty much addicted to convenience food until Priscilla, their daughter, starts to ask questions to she can write “think pieces” for her school newspaper and agitates against #9 and food additives. Levereaux knows there’s something wrong with #9, but he won’t speak. Once someone starts to send Levereaux packets of pink-dyed Sweetness #9, it all gets to be too much for him again.
Not much actually happens in Sweetness #9. Levereaux worries and frets for most of the book. Unlike a thriller or a work of science fiction, there’s no big finish. Clark goes for realism and the second half is much more interesting than the first. An unknown group of activists/terrorists start to blow up supermarkets, making people terrified to go buy food. Unfortunately, this turn comes far to late to make up for all the prior dithering. I wonder if I would have enjoyed reading this book if I hadn’t read In Defense of Food. There was nothing in Sweetness #9 that surprised me.
I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 19 August 2014.