This week’s New Title Tuesday selection, The Overstory by Richard Powers, humanizes hard science through the lyricism of Powers’s writing. If not for his creative use of rhythm and imagery, this hefty text would not be so interesting nor timely.
Publisher’s Summary: An Air Force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. These four, and five other strangers—each summoned in different ways by trees—are brought together in a last and violent stand to save the continent’s few remaining acres of virgin forest.
In his twelfth novel, National Book Award winner Richard Powers delivers a sweeping, impassioned novel of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of—and paean to—the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond, exploring the essential conflict on this planet: the one taking place between humans and nonhumans. There is a world alongside ours—vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.
The Overstory is a book for all readers who despair of humanity’s self-imposed separation from the rest of creation and who hope for the transformative, regenerating possibility of a homecoming. If the trees of this earth could speak, what would they tell us? “Listen. There’s something you need to hear.”
It is long known by librarians and educators that literature is a source for understanding different perspectives. This helps the reader become empathetic and more accepting of different opinions and the experiences of others.
In this case, we learn more about trees and how human beings are not the only sentient beings on the planet. In fact the human characters in The Overstory demonstrate the flawed nature of humans even when their motives are seemingly pure.
Without the undeniable craft that Powers has honed over the decades, The Overstory would be less interesting or lovely.
As Barbara Kingsolver wrote in her New York Times review, “This is a gigantic fable of genuine truths held together by a connective tissue of tender exchange between fictional friends, lovers, parents and children.”
Happy Reading, Susan C.
Also by Powers:
Orfeo – Inspired by the myth of Orpheus, Powers tells the story of a man journeying into his past as he desperately flees the present. Composer Peter Els opens the door one evening to find the police on his doorstep. His home microbiology lab—the latest experiment in his lifelong attempt to find music in surprising patterns—has aroused the suspicions of Homeland Security. Panicked by the raid, Els turns fugitive. As an Internet-fueled hysteria erupts, Els—the “Bioterrorist Bach”—pays a final visit to the people he loves, those who shaped his musical journey. Through the help of his ex-wife, his daughter, and his longtime collaborator, Els hatches a plan to turn this disastrous collision with the security state into a work of art that will reawaken its audience to the sounds all around them.
Generosity: an Enhancement – What will happen to life when science identifies the genetic basis of happiness? Who will own the patent? Do we dare revise our own temperaments? Funny, fast, and magical, Generosity celebrates both science and the freed imagination. In his most exuberant book yet, Richard Powers asks us to consider the big questions facing humankind as we begin to rewrite our own existence.
The Echo Maker – Winner of the 2006 National Book Award for Fiction. On a winter night on a remote Nebraska road, twenty-seven-year-old Mark Schluter has a near-fatal car accident. His older sister, Karin, returns reluctantly to their hometown to nurse Mark back from a traumatic head injury. But when Mark emerges from a coma, he believes that this woman–who looks, acts, and sounds just like his sister–is really an imposter. When Karin contacts the famous cognitive neurologist Gerald Weber for help, he diagnoses Mark as having Capgras syndrome. The mysterious nature of the disease, combined with the strange circumstances surrounding Mark’s accident, threatens to change all of their lives beyond recognition. In The Echo Maker, Richard Powers proves himself to be one of our boldest and most entertaining novelists.
Earlier Titles by Powers: