"This book is beyond special.… It’s a kind of breakthrough in the ways we think about and understand the world around us, at a moment when that is desperately needed."
"The best novels change the way you see. Richard Powers’s
The Overstory does this. Haunting."
"The best book I’ve read in 10 years. It’s a remarkable piece of literature, and the moment it speaks to is climate change. So, for me, it’s a lodestone. It’s a mind-opening fiction, and it connects us all in a very positive way to the things that we have to do if we want to regain our planet."
"The best novel ever written about trees, and really, just one of the best novels, period."
"An ingeniously structured narrative that branches and canopies like the trees at the core of the story whose wonder and connectivity echo those of the humans living amongst them."
citation from the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction
"Should be mandatory reading the world over."
The Overstory accomplishes what few living writers from either camp, art or science, could attempt. Using the tools of the story, he pulls readers heart-first into a perspective so much longer-lived and more subtly developed than the human purview that we gain glimpses of a vast, primordial sensibility, while watching our own kind get whittled down to size.… A gigantic fable of genuine truths."
The New York Times Book Review - Barbara Kingsolver
"It changed how I thought about the Earth and our place in it.... It changed how I see things and that’s always, for me, a mark of a book worth reading."
"This ambitious novel soars up through the canopy of American literature and remakes the landscape of environmental fiction.… Remarkable."
The Washington Post - Ron Charles
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.)
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
Powers' (Orfeo, 2014, etc.) 12th novel is a masterpiece of operatic proportions, involving nine central characters and more than half a century of American life.In this work, Powers takes on the subject of nature, or our relationship to nature, as filtered through the lens of environmental activism, although at its heart the book is after more existential concerns. As is the case with much of Powers' fiction, it takes shape slowly—first in a pastiche of narratives establishing the characters (a psychologist, an undergraduate who died briefly but was revived, a paraplegic computer game designer, a homeless vet), and then in the kaleidoscopic ways these individuals come together and break apart. "We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men," Powers writes, quoting the naturalist John Muir. "In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks." The idea is important because what Powers means to explore is a sense of how we become who we are, individually and collectively, and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. Nick, for instance, continues a project begun by his grandfather to take repeated photographs of a single chestnut tree, "one a month for seventy-six years." Pat, a visionary botanist, discovers how trees communicate with one another only to be discredited and then, a generation later, reaffirmed. What links the characters is survival—the survival of both trees and human beings. The bulk of the action unfolds during the timber wars of the late 1990s, as the characters coalesce on the Pacific coast to save old-growth sequoia from logging concerns. For Powers, however, political or environmental activism becomes a filter through which to consider the connectedness of all things—not only the human lives he portrays in often painfully intricate dimensions, but also the biosphere, both virtual and natural. "The world starts here," Powers insists. "This is the merest beginning. Life can do anything. You have no idea."A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.