Cover image for The overstory : a novel
Title:
The overstory : a novel
Author:
Powers, Richard, 1957- author.
ISBN:
9780393635522
Edition:
First edition.
Physical Description:
502 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Abstract:
A novel of activism and natural-world power presents interlocking fables about nine remarkable strangers who are summoned in different ways by trees for an ultimate, brutal stand to save the continent's few remaining acres of virgin forest.

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Summary

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."


Author Notes

Richard Powers was born on June 18, 1957 in Evanston, Illinois. He received a B.A. and M.A. in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After graduation, he moved to Boston, Massachusetts and worked as a computer programmer and freelance data processor. One day he saw August Sander's 1914 black-and-white photograph of three Westerwald farm boys heading to a dance at the Museum of Fine Arts. This photograph inspired him to quit his job and try writing a novel. Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance was published in 1985. His other works include Prisoner's Dilemma; The Gold Bug Variations; Operation Wandering Soul; Galatea 2.2; Plowing the Dark; The Time of Our Singing; Generosity: An Enhancement, and The Overstory: A Novel. He has won numerous awards including the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction for Gain, the National Book Award for The Echo Maker, and a Lannan Literary Award.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Nick, an artist, grew up on a family farm in Iowa famous for its regal chestnut tree. Patricia, born in Ohio with speech and hearing problems, finds inspiration in the plant world, studies forestry, and makes a controversial discovery. Adam, a science-struck boy enamored of ants, ends up majoring in social psychology and focusing on people risking their lives for plants. Douglas' life is saved by a tree when his plane is shot down during the Vietnam War; he later joins a tree-planter squad, attempting to compensate for the ravages of clear-cut logging. Engineer Mimi's father, a Chinese immigrant who invented the earliest prototype for the cell phone, planted a mulberry tree in their backyard in Illinois. Neelay, another child of a brilliant immigrant parent, a pioneering computer designer in San Jose, takes to coding as a boy like a leaf to sunlight, and even though he loses the use of his legs after falling out an oak, trees inspire the nature-based virtual realms he creates, which make him a video-game game god. All of these magnetic characters, and others, are introduced separately in Roots ; they then converge in Trunk, Crown, and Seeds, each a section in MacArthur Fellow and National Book Award winnerPowers' twelfth novel, a magnificentsaga of lives aligned with the marvels of trees, the intricacy and bounty of forests, and their catastrophic destruction under the onslaught of humanity's ever-increasing population on our rapidly warming planet. A virtuoso at parallel narratives, concurrent micro and macro perspectives, and the meshing of feelings, facts, and ideas, Powers draws on his signature fascination with the consequences, intended and otherwise, of science and technology as he considers the paradox of our ongoing assaults against nature in spite of all the evidence indicating impending disasters. The gripping, many-branched drama that unfolds here is a grand inquiry into how our hubris and unrelenting consumption and decimation of natural resources drives environmental activists to enact extreme and dangerous forms of civil disobedience. Olivia, a college student in Boston is oblivious to trees until a freak accident leaves her receptive to strange beings of light who, as the year 1990 begins, induce her to pack up her car and start driving west. Olivia has no idea why she's on this mysterious journey until she sees television coverage of people forming a ring around an enormous tree in Solace, California. The presences tell her: The most wondrous products of four billion years of life need help. Olivia finds her way to Nick in Iowa, and when they reach California, the lovers, like the real-life tree-sitter Julia Butterfly Hill, ascend 200 feet off the ground to live for months on precarious platforms erected on an ancient, majestic redwood under siege by loggers. Another bond is forged when Douglas and Mimi's paths cross at an endangered grove of trees outside her high-rise Portland, Oregon, office. Adam's tree-hugger research also puts him on the scene as they all arrive at the same place. And once each either witnesses or is subjected to vicious attacks by enraged loggers and contemptuous law-enforcement agents, they join forces and embark on acts of what they define as ecotage (vandalizing equipment to sabotage logging operations) and which logging corporations and the authorities deem ecoterrorism. Meanwhile, Patricia writes Rachel Carson-style books about the complex interconnectedness and intelligence of forests that galvanize the world. But can anyone stop or even slow the devastation wrought by the relentless tide of human growth and need? Powers' sylvan tour de force is alive with gorgeous descriptions; continually surprising, often heartbreaking characters; complex suspense; unflinching scrutiny of pain; celebration of creativity and connection; and informed and expressive awe over the planet's life force and its countless and miraculous manifestations. Powers elevates ecofiction with this profound and symphonic novel even as he pays subtle tribute to the genre's defining title, Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975), which, in turn, inspired T. C. Boyle's ecowarrior tale, A Friend of the Earth (2000). The Overstory takes a crowning position on a list of earlier novels about trees and tree-huggers and about the terrible consequences of ecotage or ecoterrorism as well-meaning convictions precipitate calamities and crises of conscience. Diverse in voice and timbre, the list includes The Living, by Annie Dillard (1992); The Tree-Sitter, by Suzanne Matson (2006); The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman (2010); The Widower's Tale, by Julia Glass (2010); Barkskins, by Annie Proulx (2016); and At the Edge of the Orchard, by Tracy Chevalier (2016). Powers wants us to see trees and forests in verdant and exhilarating detail, and feel the despair of those who know the magnitude and significance of all that is being irrevocably lost as forests everywhere are destroyed. As we rip apart the forest'sgreen web, we immerse ourselves in the cyberweb. Powers wonders, Will data guide us in reversing our doomsday folly? Will stories help us fully perceive, cherish, and preserve life? The Overstory and its brethren seed awareness and hope.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2018 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

Occupying the same thematic terrain as Annie Proulx's Barkskins, the latest from Powers (Orfeo) is an impassioned but unsatisfying paean to the wonder of trees. Set primarily on the West Coast, the story revolves around nine characters, separated by age and geography, whose "lives have long been connected, deep underground." Among these are a wheelchair-bound computer game designer; a scientist who uncovers the forest's hidden communication systems; a psychologist studying the personality types of environmental activists; and a young woman who, after being electrocuted, hears voices urging her to save old-growth forests from logging. All are seduced by the majesty of trees and express their arboreal love in different ways: through scholarship, activism, art, and even violent resistance. Some of the prose soars, as when a redwood trunk shoots upward in a "russet, leathery apotheosis," while some lands with a thud: "We're cashing in a billion years of planetary savings bonds and blowing it on assorted bling." Powers's best works are thrilling accounts of characters blossoming as they pursue their intellectual passions; here, few of the earnest figures come alive on the page. While it teems with people, information, and ideas, the novel feels curiously barren. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

Standing as silent witnesses to our interweaving genealogies, cyclical wars, and collapsing empires, trees contain our collective history in addition to our climate record. Here, the acclaimed Powers (Orfeo; The Time of Our Singing) employs literary dendrochronology to weave the stories of nine strangers connected through their collective action in preventing a forest from falling to industrial harvesting and ruination. From a chestnut in Iowa to a banyan in Vietnam, trees function as a central theme for each character's backstory. As a corollary, foliage becomes a multivalent symbol of family struggle, divine intervention, and community. Just as Douglas firs connect their underground root structures to provide mutual support and protection, each character moves across disparate landscapes to find him- or herself joined in solidarity against an unstoppable force of environmental destruction. VERDICT Whereas Powers dissected the human brain's mysterious capacity to prescind subject from object in his National Book Award-winning The Echo Makers, here he pens a deep meditation on the irreparable psychic damage that manifests in our unmitigated separation from nature.-Joshua Finnell, Colgate Univ., Hamilton, NY © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


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