A man and his robot: A Robot in the Garden (review)

A Robot In the Garden (NetGalley)
Deborah Install
Sourcebooks Landmark

A tender story about a boy and his dog–I mean a man and his dog … I mean a man and his robot. You read that correctly–a robot. As in a little mechanical wire and steel contraption, not, I learned, to be confused with an android, who is much higher up on the man + machine hierarchy.

robotrobot in the gardenI really read this book because of the cover, which struck me as so whimsical. I’m not a sci-fi reader, I don’t have a great fascination with artificial intelligence–it just looked out-of-the-box interesting. I read a lot, no surprise there–but when you read as much as I do sometimes the stories blur. Same plot, different names and places: girl meets boy; elderly woman remembers; someone killed the girl; ruthless man ruthlesses; war is hell.

But then I read the blurb for A Robot In the Garden.  Ben is jobless and his marriage is slipping away. He finds himself still living in his childhood home after his parents tragic death several years before and he’s stuck. Rudderless. (The story line was already starting to blur …) Until he “discovers a battered robot named Tang in his garden” and “without a crucial bit of machinery, Tang will stop working, and Ben can’t let that happen.” Whaaaa?!

My first thought was, “Well it can’t be a real robot. It’s a metaphor …” Nope. It’s a robot, fashioned (it seemed to me) on the Wall-E of movie fame: clunky, out-dated, and thoroughly lovable. Set in the not-so-distant future, it’s a world where androids serve dinner, wash clothes, and drive cars. Little Tang worms his way into the numb heart of clueless Ben–they travel, friend and sidekick, from London to Texas to California to Japan to Malaysia–Ben’s heart melts and he starts to get a clue.

I don’t in any way mean to make the novel sound silly. It was a simple (and familiar) story of finding oneself told in a fresh way with a very unlikely main character–and it was just plain fun.

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