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‘Hey, Zoey’ Explores Women’s Autonomy Through AI Questions

Dolores is navigating the routines of her life when she stumbles upon a surprising discovery in her garage: a high-end, lifelike sex doll named Zoey, equipped with artificial intelligence.

From this intriguing setup, author Sarah Crossan explores several themes such as the boundaries of cheating, the essence of humanity and sentience, and the definition of a person’s worth. Yet, the primary focus of the story is women’s autonomy.

The novel kicks off with a series of rapid-fire, first-person vignettes from Dolores’ perspective, offering a mosaic of snippets that explain how she arrived at this point. Each brief segment, ranging from a sentence to a few pages, shifts across times and places in an almost stream-of-consciousness style, yet the narrative remains clear and coherent. These bite-sized pieces make it easy to read quickly while also allowing pauses for reflection when necessary.

And pausing is something readers will find themselves doing often.

“Hey, Zoey” starts with humor — albeit dark humor — and gradually transitions to sadness and even devastation. The premise itself has a touch of comedy: a woman nicknamed Dolly discovers her husband’s sex doll, whose name, Zoey, means ‘life’. For those curious, ‘Dolores’ means ‘sorrow’ — a hint of what’s to come. Dolores finds amusement in rating restaurants poorly based solely on lighting and music choices, such as too much Norah Jones. She also reprimands a student for drawing a sexual cartoon, while simultaneously acknowledging his artistic talent. All these details add a distinctly British and Irish flavor to the narrative.

As the story progresses, the tone shifts subtly from humorous to contemplative, much like bathwater cooling gradually. By the time readers notice the change in temperature, they’re too engrossed in the story to miss the earlier, warmer tone.

Dolores begins conversing with Zoey, using the AI doll as a medium to confront her own past. Through these interactions, we learn how her parents’ relationship shaped her views on love and marriage, and how caring for her younger sister and baby cousin made her feel needed and connected. Meanwhile, her role as a teacher with an endless cycle of students leaves her feeling stuck. The introduction of Zoey raises the question: is Dolores replaceable?

As the narrative unfolds, readers are invited to formulate their own theories about why Dolores and her husband David’s marriage is deteriorating. These deeply buried issues are something even Dolores is not fully aware of — yet.

Loaded with subtle prejudices, cultural references, and introspection, “Hey, Zoey” uses the concept of AI sentience to re-examine women’s autonomy from a unique perspective.

Given Crossan’s extensive portfolio, which includes a dozen other novels, it’s no surprise that “Hey, Zoey” is a page-turner. The real delight, however, is in the compelling story and the engaging dialogue it brings to the forefront.

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Source: AP News