Posted by: greentangle | April 22, 2018

The Overstory

The Overstory by Richard Powers is my favorite new novel in years. It’s well-written, but I have to admit that the main reason for my enjoyment is simply its subject matter and viewpoint. That is the increasingly rare and increasingly needed attitude that life beyond humans matters and that the real real world is not economics and politics. The only time you might find more references to trees in a book is if you’re reading a field guide.

The first third of the book is a series of chapters which introduce the main characters, some of whom will later interact directly while others will affect lives indirectly. Each of these chapters stands alone as a fine short story.

The novel is set primarily in the US of recent decades with parallels to actual events and movements. A sign reads “Earth First! We’ll log the other planets later,” and as one of the novel’s main threads emerged, I imagined a blurb along the lines of “The Thinking Man’s Monkey Wrench Gang”. But this version is more realistic and more serious.

There is a thread about computer games and their creator which, though made relevant to the book’s main subject, didn’t interest me that much. And I wasn’t wild about the ending, but I can’t really imagine a satisfying one to a book such as this. (Happy ending? As I’ve written many times here over the years, it depends on the time frame and the goal one has in mind.) I still intend to buy it and reread it more closely to track the connections I noticed in passing and now would expect.

From comments by the author:

“I happen to believe that collectively, we humans are deeply, dangerously deranged, and that only a profound shift in consciousness and institutions regarding the significance and standing of nonhumans will keep us viable in this place and lift our awful sense of moral abandonment and species loneliness.”

https://bookpage.com/interviews/22518-richard-powers Contains plot spoilers, so although there are many good thoughts there making it clear why the book appealed to me, you might want to wait and read the book first.

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