Richard Powers returns this fall with a novel about our dying world and the bewildering prospect of raising a child in it. Uriel hasn’t and won’t soon forget it. Read more and see why.
Can I tell you a secret?
I just finished the new Richard Powers book. Yes, that Richard Powers. The Overstory Richard Powers. Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning author Richard Powers. And without spoiling it, I’ll just say: It’s so heart-achingly good. Yes, I was filled with absolute dread because, like in The Overstory, Powers forces readers to confront the impending doom of the natural world if we fail to step up to the task and save ourselves from ourselves. The novel, though, is tender and oh so wise. I see this one being the subject of many book club group chats and happy hour hangouts (my hope being that we’ll be able to do those kinds of things by the time this one publishes in September).
Powers follows up his epic tree book with a somewhat quieter, but no less grand, story. Bewilderment is an intimate novel about a father (Theo, an astrobiologist) and his neurodivergent son (Robin, animal lover and hyper-empath) coping with the recent loss of their wife and mother. Their’s is a relationship built on love, familial trust, and a passion for the natural world, but without Aly (Theo’s wife, Robin’s mother, dogged animal rights activist) the tether’s strained.
Robin acts out at school constantly (he’s plagued by bullies and just feels a lot about endangered species), Theo doesn’t have a solution, and when tension’s boil over, Robin’s expelled after assaulting a fellow student. Forced to decide between doping Robin up with adult-grade psychoactive drugs or to home school him, Theo opts for the latter even at the risk of losing tenure and his grasp on everyday life. This leads them, eventually, to an experimental neural feedback treatment utilizing a years-old map of Aly’s brain.
Robin begins to improve, but at what cost? Awareness of the ever-present climate disaster, a presidential administration allergic to facts, and the possibility of worlds beyond our own weighs heavily on both Robin and Theo. Not to mention a specter of a past life entering the fray. What ensues is a haunting, elegiac fable (and homage to Flowers for Algernon) on the elusive question of raising a child in a world that is dying at a breakneck pace around them.
It hasn’t left me yet. I still think about it. And I think all of y’all are going to eat it up.
You can pre-order Bewilderment by Richard Powers from BookPeople today and look at some trees while you wait.
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