Richard Powers: The Overstory is just the latest story

Richard Powers: The Overstory is just the latest story

I am reading The Overstory by Richard Powers.  My favorite genres have always been anything weird: magical realism, science fiction and fantasy, alternative history and the ever popular post-apocalypse novel.  I was attracted to this book because it seemed to verge on the magical. And it was about trees.

“A novel of activism and natural-world power presents interlocking fables about nine remarkable strangers who are summoned in different ways by trees for an ultimate, brutal stand to save the continent's few remaining acres of virgin forest.” – Publisher description.

Trees summoning people to an ultimate stand… I want to know more.  Trees have always been one of my special loves, and having hugged quite a few, I believe in their powers.  I am only a very short way into this vast forest of a novel, and already I am enchanted by the language and scope and promise.  So, as usual, I went looking for more about this author.

Imagine my embarrassment to find that Richard Powers is a GREAT and FAMOUS WRITER.  First clue should have been the fact that all 27 copies of The Overstory we have at the library are checked out, with 55 holds. This novel is his latest in a long and illustrious career going back to the 1980’s. I had heard of the Gold Bug Variations, but not all the others.  Literature majors and readers of the New York Review of Books, pardon my ignorance. I will be exploring this new (to me) treasure trove of Richard Powers novels, and I could say it was the trees that summoned me. 

More novels by Richard Powers:



Time of Our Singing 

Generosity: an enhancement


The Echo Maker


Plowing the Dark



 Galatea 2.2


Exploring Queer Lives: By Nightfall

By Nightfall novel jacket black tulip facing downThe Hours novel jacket

Michael Cunningham’s  By Nightfall is a gorgeously written novel that reveals the inner life of Peter, an art dealer and gallery owner in his 40’s who finds himself powerfully drawn to his wife’s beautiful, directionless  younger brother.  Michael Cunningham is the prize-winning author of many novels, including The Hours, which he has described as a tribute to Virginia Woolf.  Here a similar stream of consciousness style lets the reader live through Peter’s emotional earthquake and its surprising aftermath. 

Although the central tension comes from a man’s attraction to another man, By Nightfall is not about “being gay”. Gender as a factor of desire is a fascinating aspect of the story, evoking many speculations. It’s a story about a person who contemplates abandoning his life's work and partner for a brief affair with a wild card visitor, one who evokes associations with past passions.  It’s a story about the New York art world, artists and gallery owners, real genius and manufactured artistic product.  It’s a story about the art of life, chaos and craft, manipulation and spontaneity, and the precarious balance between them.  If there is such a thing as “post-gay”, By Nightfall exemplifies it with seamless integration of queerness into the human narrative.