It has been a long time since I’ve read a novel that was so vast. It’s my first Powers, so I can’t testify to his usual creative approach but this novel is on a scale completely different from anything I’ve ever read or seen, including high concept sci-fi. Quite possibly because it operates on the existing framework but does not shift the priority to the specks of very ordinary human existence, as is often the case. The characters are not only a lineup of humans but also the trees, the supernatural, and the AI. The timeframe goes back to colonial days, but, in actuality, spans the planet’s whole existence.
I was so happy it worked this way. Because I am always dissatisfied when misguided precision reaps the reality at the seams and leaves gaps that are easily filled in with experience outside of the author’s. Despite the fact that Powers’s narrative centers on the US, specifically, the PNW, he never fails to include the acknowledgement of vastness of the universe. And so his micro approach to the macrocosm he observes, done through our almost contemporaries, is humble but effective.
I was taken from the very first page and enraptured by the time of the last one. I cried very hard, and for once, not because there was something dramatic happening to the characters, but because there are things in the universe larger than all of me, all of us, all of this. Things that will survive. I often find that books are at their best when the author is talking to posterity in their writing. And Powers does this exactly. It’s a novel for the time capsules. And for yesterday: if we’re reading it, it’s too late.
The Overstory by Richard Powers
Published by W. W. Norton in 2018