Powers structural approach to The Overstory breaks with traditional plotting The result is two books in one, each designed to appeal to a different type of reader The flaw in this approach is that the book either reads like a literary triumph that starts slow then builds to something satiating, or it reads like a bait and switch with a breathtaking start followed by a wearisome and long winded trek to the conclusion Part 1 called Roots reads like a magnificent short story collection The backstory and exposition that would normally be woven throughout a book is delivered in several rousing anecdotes Nine protagonists are introduced, their stories ranging from sweeping multi generational sagas to brief glimpses into their private lives These characters remain separate in Roots, yet their stories are united by meaningful interaction with trees Each of their stories arrives at an arresting climax before Powers hits the pause button Roots will likely appeal to fans of 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster or The Sport of Kings by C E Morgan The remaining three fourths of the book, however, are something else entirely Parts 2 through 4 called Trunk, Crown, and Seed, respectively sees these nine characters being inextricably drawn together Their lives entangle, their shared interests and unique experiences with trees drive their actions This portion of the book is arguably slower, with fewer revelations about the characters and attention dedicated to exploring themes Powers pulls back the curtain to introduce trees as a tenth character and forces us to examine our role in, and relationship to, nature All ten characters share similar beliefs, fight for the same causes, face the same external conflict while wrestling with minimal or no internal conflict , and everyone gets along It s a startling contrast to the first part of the book a harrowing and captivating intro that promises heartbreak and drama, followed by a stagnant alternative book in which the captivating backstories have very little bearing on the overall narrative At times, Powers writing is as beautiful and wondrous as nature, and his messages about activism and resistance are poignant but, ultimately, his execution is uneven and the final product is a book bloated with redundant characters The bends in the alders speak of long ago disasters Spikes of pale chinquapin flowers shake down their pollen soon they will turn into spiny fruits Poplars repeat the wind s gossip Persimmons and walnuts set out their bribes and rowans their blood red clusters Ancient oaks wave prophecies of future weather The several hundred kinds of hawthorn laugh at the single name their forced to share. Shortlisted for the Man Booker in 2018, The Overstory is a brilliant and passionate book about humans and their relationship to trees and the natural environment.The first half of the book is exceptional Written like short stories, 9 characters are introduced separately with their tree story Each story has an event that has happened to change the life of the character by the tree or trees that shaped them The stories are phenomenal.The second half of the book is about these same characters being drawn together to fight the cause of saving trees Environmental activism is the center of this part of the book and it s fight against logging companies who are destroying the American forests Richard Powers shows such compassion and enthusiasm throughout his book However, I found the second half to be too long Some editing would have gone a long way His book is 500 pages long and not an easy one to get through It is well researched and very thought provoking, however A book that won t leave the reader for a long time.4 out of 5 stars This book has an interesting structure and it is well written I get what Powers is going for conceptually The character sketches, which read like short stories are wonderful But then the book gets less engaging, shall we say I stopped reading it because I just could not read one passage of florid description about trees or visions or highways I couldn t do it But if you love trees, this is a good book for you I get why it won the Pulitzer. Further Update I can t help it Powers writing does something to me I ve now finished a re read of this book and I am going back to 5 stars It s a book that really rewards a second reading It is much darker than I remember from first read suicide, disillusionment, betrayal on top of the destruction of the natural world and also much emotional The latter of those two surprised me because I thought that knowing the story would reduce the emotional impact, but the reverse happened.I loved all the comparisons of speed humans, the natural world, computers and I got a lot out of Neelay s story this time through.So, whilst I can understand the criticisms some have made, I m choosing to ignore those bits and take the novel as a whole which is, I think, required reading Update on reflection, I got a bit excited about having a new Richard Powers book to read and I have definitely, despite what I say below, read better books this year Consequently, my rating has dropped to 4 stars There is also the fact that Powers himself has written several books better than this one Two quotes from different parts of this bookThe best arguments in the world won t change a person s mind The only thing that can do that is a good story AndYes And what do all good stories do There are no takers Neelay holds up his arms and extends his palms in the oddest gesture In another moment, leaves will grow from his fingers Birds will come and nest in them They kill you a little They turn you into something you weren t I should come clean at the start of this review Richard Powers is my favourite author I have read all his previous novels and have been desperate to read this one ever since I first heard about it a few months ago I am grateful to the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read an ARC a couple of months prior to publication date.The overstory is the name given to the part of a forest that protrudes above the canopy When you look at a rainforest, for example, what you see from above is the canopy with trees standing out above it What you don t see unless you get into the rainforest is the understory that sits below the canopy but above the ground, then the shrub layer below that and, finally, the forest floor.It is clear from page 1 of this book that the trees will be the stars of the show Repeatedly, they are referred to asthe most wondrous products of four billion years of creationand the book is shot through with the most astonishing and mind blowing information about trees In particular, the book tells us a lot about how and what trees communicate with each other For example, when a tree comes under threat from an insect of some kind, it tells its neighbours who respond by releasing insecticide to protect themselves In a large forest, many trees whose roots meet actually meld their root systems together making the whole forest an interconnected network where the trees nurture their young and heal their wounded Not so long ago, all this was the stuff of ridicule, but today a lot of it has been demonstrated and is being discovered all the time.What Richard Powers wants his readers to realise is what this means for humanity He wants us to realise how important trees are for the world And he chooses to do this not with a text book but with a story.His story is structured like a tree The first 150 pages consist of the Roots These are 8 apparently independent short stories giving us the back story for 9 different people One, for example, tells us the family history of a some immigrants into America mid 1800s ending with an artist in recent times who inherits the family collection of photographs all of the same chestnut tree taking at monthly intervals over generations In another, a hearing and speech impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with each other The unifying theme across all the stories is the presence of trees And it is worth noting those trees because, as many people know, trees have huge mythical and symbolic meanings and the trees Powers chooses for each of his characters are not random selections.The next 200 pages are Trunk Here the stories of the individuals that we now know quite well start to merge and connect Some merge completely, others connect tangentially This passage is overtly political Don t expect an unbiased overview this is an impassioned plea for the protection of trees set in the form of a story It is an attempt to make readers realise how temporary humans are in the grand scheme of thingsBut people have no idea what time is They think it s a line, spinning out from three seconds behind them, then vanishing just as fast into the three seconds of fog just ahead They can t see that time is one spreading ring wrapped around another, outward and outward until the thinnest skin of Now depends for its being on the enormous mass of everything that has already diedand how much permanent trees areOut in the yard, all around the house, the things they ve planted in years gone by are making significance, making meaning, as easily as they make sugar and wood from nothing, from air, and sun, and rain But the humans hear nothing Then we have 120 pages called Crown where the stories separate after a dramatic climax to Trunk, but remain connected, branching out in different directions.Then, finally, Seeds tells us some of the outcomes of the stories and leaves us poised for the next steps in others It includes a plea for us to look at things differentlyThe planet s lungs will be ripped out And the law will let this happen, because harm was never imminent enough Imminent, at the speed of people, is too late The law must judge imminent at the speed of trees I think this is perhaps one of Powers most accessible novels It feels to me, fresh from finishing it, like his most passionate one Yes, there is some science, but a lot of it is explained carefully This novel does not require the scientific background that some of Powers novels have asked the reader for And there is no music in this book, which is the other thing that Powers often includes in his novels and often does so in a fairly technical way This one is, by contrast, far emotional it feels like a book Powers has written because he wants, as the quote at the start of this review says, to change people s minds In my case, he is perhaps preaching to the converted because I am already a believer in conservation and already convinced of the importance of trees Even so, this book taught me many things and fired up a stronger passion in me for the natural world I have to hope that others will read it and become equally convinced of the need for intelligent conservation work.I know I am biased because of my love for all of Powers novels, but I think it is possible I have now, even only in January, read my favourite book of 2018. 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 S 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 ForestIn 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 CatastropheThe 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 This has won the Pulitzer Prize Richard Powers writes with ambition, passion and reverence on the world of trees, their ancient intelligence and their central place in the fragile ecosystem This is a dense and epic work of environmental fiction, a picture of the state of our planet and how humanity has contributed to its degradation Whilst the over riding central character of this are trees, he interweaves the stories of the lives of 9 disparate individuals, within a four part structure of Roots, Trunk, Crown and Seeds The stories of the 9 people appear to be isolated but interlinked with their varying connections to trees and their growing contribution in their efforts to prevent the destruction of forests and woods Powers immerses us in the world of trees, so wondrous, coming at the theme from multiple perspectives, packed with elements of science and a dollop of magical realism.This is not a perfect or an easy read, there are occasions when Powers just cannot help himself from over egging the narrative with his heavy handed need to hammer home the same points a little too assiduously However, this powerful paean to the treasure that are trees and nature, highlights one of the most important issues in our contemporary world, the state of the planet that our younger and future generations are set to inherit People have failed to see the wood for the trees, thereby underlining our inability to intuit the place of humans amidst the wider ecosystems of the Earth we rely on to live and survive This is an elegaic, extraordinary, and emotive read, if faintly exasperating at times, a critically important novel for our times on the issues surrounding sustainability Many thanks to Random House Vintage. Richard Powers s The Overstory soars up through the canopy of American literature and remakes the landscape of environmental fiction.Long celebrated for his compelling, cerebral books, Powers demonstrates a remarkable ability to tell dramatic, emotionally involving stories while delving into subjects many readers would otherwise find arcane He s written about genetics, pharmaceuticals, artificial intelligence, music and photography In 2006, his novel about neurology, The Echo Maker, won a National Book Award And now he s turned his attention, fully than ever before, to our imperiled biome and particularly to the world s oldest, grandest life forms trees The Overstory moves the way an open field evolves into a thick forest slowly, then inevitably For a while, its various stories develop independently, and it s not apparent that they have anything to do with one another But have faith in this world maker Powers is working through tree history, not human history, and the effect is like a time lapse video Soon enough his disparate characters set out branches that touch and mingle Before the Civil War, a Norwegian immigrant travels to Iowa and begins homesteading in the largely empty new To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post https www.washingtonpost.com entert 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction This dense, literary book will make you think when you cut down a tree, what you make from it should be at least as miraculous as what you cut down Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature The Overstory is a powerful, literary novel, shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize It sings, in part, a paean to the wonders of trees and the multitude of wonders that old growth forests and a variety of trees brings to our world It also mourns a tragedy how humans relentlessly annihilate these priceless resources, and what drives some people to eco terrorism The Overstory is brilliantly organized in a form that reflects an actual tree It begins with a section aptly titled Roots, a set of eight apparently unconnected stories in which we meet nine disparate characters An artist whose family home in Iowa boasts one of the last healthy American chestnut trees The engineer daughter of a Chinese immigrant An odd, unmotivated teenager inspired by a book about human behavior and psychology An intellectual property attorney who falls in love with an unconventional stenographer A Vietnam veteran who stumbles into a job planting seedlings to replace mature trees that have been cut down A brilliant computer programmer, permanently disabled by a fall from a tree A postdoc, hearing and speech impaired woman who studies trees, discovering that they communicate with each other, and is ridiculed for her conclusions And a beautiful, careless college undergrad who dies from an accidental electrocution and returns to life with a vision and a purpose And all of these characters have been deeply affected by trees, in one way or another.Richard Powers traces the lives of these nine people often back to their childhood or even their ancestors to explore how they have developed into the people they are These introductory stories of their lives are excellent and insightful good enough that they could stand alone as individual short stories But Powers is just getting started In the next section, Trunk, their lives come together and begin to affect each other Four of them become eco warriors, part of the tree hugging movement whose proponents will do almost anything to stop the logging and stripping of irreplaceable mature redwoods and old growth forests Trunk culminates in a terrible, unexpected event that will change their lives forever And so we proceed to Crown and then the shorter, final section, Seeds The Overstory is a little bit magical realism, with messages being shared with some of the characters by some mystical source, and a little bit science fiction, as the genius computer programmer develops video games that turn into a type of artificial intelligence But mostly Richard Powers is trying to convince us, as readers, of the wondrous nature of trees, and to treat trees, and our world generally, with deeper respect The novel shifts its focus somewhat in the final section, with a somewhat cryptic hint that trees may well outlast humanity.Parts of The Overstory rate five stars, easily, but personally I hit a bit of a wall with the lengthy middle section, Trunk As brilliantly written as the book is, it s also sometimes slow paced, repetitious and didactic, as Powers delves into the evils of the corporations and groups who are indiscriminately cutting down trees and eliminating forests, and the worst of the tactics they use against those who try to oppose them I think this novel would have benefited by being edited down by about a hundred pages and by being less overtly preachy But Powers is clearly angry, and wants us to share that anger and be moved to take action It may be message fiction, but this is potent stuff Also, as Powers points out than once, trees live very slowly compared to humans, and that is echoed in the deliberate pacing of The Overstory.For readers already of the view that humans are doing profound damage to the ecology of our world, The Overstory will give you additional arguments and inspiration For those skeptical, it may cause you to reexamine some of your views The Overstory isn t an easy read, but it s a powerful and persuasive work of art I received a free copy from the publisher for review Thank you Content notes some, very limited adult content language, violence, sexual situations This isn t a book for younger readers in any case.Initial post This hefty, literary book looks a little intimidating, but interesting The Secret Life of Trees Off we go Having bought this book months ago, I started wondering if I spent my money well Although I enjoy making my own mind regarding my reading choices, I couldn t escape coming across many reviews, both positive and negative, as a result, I was a little apprehensive When I began reading, I thought it d take me many weeks to get through this novel, however, it turned out to be a compulsive reading for me Different characters, different stories, one theme trees I love forests, parks and try hard to save trees in my neighbourhood, but this novel added a new dimension to my perception of the lives of trees I d never read environmental fiction before, and for me this book is powerful As a reader, I received what I expected to receive from a good book story and narration that engaged me. This amazing book connects specific trees to people or families and then the stories come together and morph into being about the environment, how trees relate to each other, and this underlying theme of personal and natural histories that always play out Decisions have long reaching consequences, etc The first section had me in tears about Chestnut trees All I wanted to do when I reached the end was go back to the beginning I started this as a review copy but bought my own hardcover before I hit 100 pages.
Richard Powers is the author of twelve novels, most recently The Overstory He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the National Book Award, and he has been a Pulitzer Prize and four time National Book Critics Circle Award finalist He lives in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains Librarian note There is than one author with this name in the Goodreads database
- 502 pages
- The Overstory
- Richard Powers
- 07 March 2019 Richard Powers