Take Furbis, cross them with Alexas, and make them live-streaming to a single audience, then you have what’s known in this book as a kentuki: a robot “pet” that one person chooses to “keep” and one person chooses to “dwell” in. The voyeur and exhibitionist then find themselves in a twisted relationship. The technology is new, and exploding onto the scene all over the world. As you can imagine, this can lead down both positive and negative paths as people figure out what they can do with these kentuckis.
Little Eyes takes us down many of these paths. In fact, I’d say the book is less of a novel and more a collection of stories all on the same subject, with a few longer stories interspersed throughout. It is not a traditional beginning-to-end novel, and that may not sit as well with some readers. Because in the end, 85% of the book is made up of mini-stories that seem only to serve as “what if this is how the kentucki was used?” scenarios. Many (all?) of them are negative, from blackmail to aggressive, malfunctioning robots. There are only a handful of stories (five, if I remember right?) where we follow a longer narrative – and those are separate and individual from each other as well, with only a few chapters dedicated to each of their tales. I’m not saying this is a negative thing – personally, I quite enjoyed the formatting of this book – but I know some other readers may look back and be frustrated by the lack of story or cohesive narrative. I felt it was best to warn about the style up front.
As for me, I’d say that my thoughts are split at about a 30/70 ratio – 30% negative, 70% positive. Oddly, even though the split is more positive, I’m not sure that, in the end, I actually liked the book. I think the negative bits may have outweighed the positive. Without going into spoiler-details, here’s how I felt as I read Little Eyes:
- I nearly stopped reading several times during the first chapter. It felt written in a way that was purely for shock value and to try to hook a different kind of reader than me. I found the concept of the kentukis interesting enough that I continued on to chapter two, but that first one irritated me a lot because it felt so unnecessary to begin that way.
- A large chunk of the book was extremely engrossing. I found myself wanting to know more about all the little stories, and loved the way Schweblin explored the different paths that kentuki users took, both negative and positive. In the end, I couldn’t stop reading and finished the book in a single day.
- There’s a great sense of time passing in the world and kentuckis becoming more and more commonplace despite not having an actual narrative time period in the book.
- Schweblin basically built an entire world through individual stories, and I was split between thinking this was extremely clever and that this felt like polished notes on world-building rather than an actual narrative.
- I was annoyed at the direction the longer narratives took. As each concluded, I began to feel like the author was pushing her own biases into the novel in a way that became too obvious and transparent. By the end of the last story – which I felt strained credulity for reasons I can’t give without spoilers – I was exhausted and irritated.
It’s this last part that makes me unsure if I liked the book or not. The book grew so heavy-handed in such a sickening and hardly-believable way that it basically ruined my previous experience, which as I said was mostly positive after that first chapter. I’m walking away from the book in two minds, praising it for its forethought and originality and world-building, and disappointed that the author had to twist everything into something dark and morbid in what felt, to me, like a unnecessary bid to point out the obvious dangers of overtly-intimate technology.