The Gold Bug Variations

The Gold Bug Variations

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by Richard Powers

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A national bestseller, voted by Time as the #1 novel of 1991, selected as one of the "Best Books of 1991" by Publishers Weekly, and nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award--a magnificent story that probes the meaning of love, science, music, and art, by the brilliant author of Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance.  See more details below


A national bestseller, voted by Time as the #1 novel of 1991, selected as one of the "Best Books of 1991" by Publishers Weekly, and nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award--a magnificent story that probes the meaning of love, science, music, and art, by the brilliant author of Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Powers ( Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance ; Prisoner's Dilemma ) is a recipient of a MacArthur ``genius'' grant , and it seems appropriate: this strange, overwritten, often infuriating, manically intelligent and sometimes deeply moving novel could hardly have been produced by a writer of mere talent. Powers has woven an extraordinary knowledge of music, of science (particularly of the search for genetic coding, and of computer programming), of the mysteries of language and art history, into a saga that is dazzling and wearying in almost equal measure. The novel jumps back and forth between the late '50s, when brilliant scientist Stuart Ressler is involved with an Illinois research team trying to break the mysteries of DNA coding, and the '80s, when librarian Jan O'Deigh and computer programmer Franklin Todd get to know Ressler, now holding an insignificant night job at a massive computer database operation in Brooklyn, N.Y., and try to figure what derailed his promising career. Not a great deal happens, in a conventional narrative sense. Ressler has an affair with one married fellow scientist and learns music from another; his scientific career is, in fact, aborted by his resulting passion for music. O'Deigh leaves her glib Madison Avenue boyfriend, takes up with Todd and is then abandoned by him in his vain search for information about an obscure 16th-century Flemish artist. Toward the end the three principals are involved in a massive computer scam to help a stricken colleague. Despite occasional bewilderment at arid patches of scientific jargon and interminable displays of arcane knowledge for its own sake, a reader persists with The Gold Bug Variations (the title, obviously, is a play on Bach's Goldberg Variations , which have a key role in the book's intellectual structure, and Edgar Allan Poe's The Gold Bug , about the solving of a puzzle). For there is a perpetual air of surprise about the book, of intellectual excitement, a passionate involvement with words that expands into delightfully witty dialogue and profoundly evocative description. Reading it is hard work, but it's also deeply enriching; the decade is not likely to bring another novel half as challenging and original. (Aug.)
Library Journal
If you don't get the title's allusive pun (to Robbins's Goldberg Variations), you won't get far into this long, densely textured, multi-referential, and brilliant novel. It demands that a reader make connections between such diversities as the genetic code and musical notation, Flemish art and biological nomenclature, the logic of computer systems and the Dewey decimal classification, cartography and chemistry. Making such connections--deciphering the encrypted messages of our world--is the great single quest in this novel of multiple searches. There is a rudimentary plot: a pair of love stories, separated by 25 years, entwined one round the other, but the real story here, its great treasure hunt, is the search to break the code unlocking the secret of life. This won't be one of the summer's hottest best sellers, but it is one of the year's best books, a grand encyclopedic novel akin to Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow or Joseph McElroy's Lookout Cartridge . A previous novel by Powers, Three Farmers on the Way to a Dance ( LJ 9/15/85), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award.-- Charles Michaud, Turner Free Lib., Randolph, Mass.
Kirkus Reviews
Triumphantly true to form, Powers continues the densely layered and intricate plotting found in his earlier novels (Prisoner's Dilemma, Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance) in this stunning epic that delves into molecular genetics, music, and information science, eloquently combining the mysteries of love and the passionate pursuit of knowledge. In a manner reminiscent of A.S. Byatt's Possession, a capable young reference librarian renews her sense of purpose as she and a computer technician/art-historian come together in seeking to recover the past of his co-worker Stuart Ressler, a brilliant older man wasting his talents as the night supervisor in a Brooklyn data- processing facility—and soon unmasked as one of the brightest hopes in genetics in the 1950's who vanished from the field after a promising start. The interweaving threads of narrative reconstruct a tragic affair between Ressler the scientist and a married colleague; a similarly electrifying and devastating relationship between the two sleuths; the perilous path of science as it grapples with the fundamental patterns of life; and the librarian's own obsession with the secrets of genetic coding, initiated in despair after learning of Ressler's death from cancer. Ranging in detail from genetic formulas to musical ones (with the title a typically witty reference to both Bach's variations and the Poe short story), replete with scintillating characters, especially the oddball team of scientists gathered to crack the code on a midwestern campus in the 50's, and structurally as well-tempered as a Bach fugue, the harmonious interplay between personal and scientific drama is both challenging and exquisite. A formidablemasterpiece, deeply vital and sparkling in its many facets, whimsical in its prose yet precise in its elucidation—rewarding in every sense but, in particular, a profoundly moving love story.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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5.39(w) x 8.03(h) x 1.55(d)

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The Gold Bug Variations 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago