Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Review - The Overstory by Richard Powers

The Overstory by Richard Powers
Publisher: W.W. Norton
Publication Date: April 3, 2018
Date Read: October 14, 2018
Length: 512 pages
Source: Publisher
★★★☆☆
A monumental novel about trees and people by one of our most "prodigiously talented" (The New York Times Book Review) novelists.

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 1980s 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 forest.

In 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 catastrophe.

The 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."
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23014597-what-doesn-t-kill-her
My Review

This book was a little different than the books that I usually pick up.  I like different so I was eager to give this one a try.  I found that I enjoyed this book the most when I read just a little bit at a time so I spent over a month with this one working it around other books.  It was a book that I found fairly easy to set aside but I always seemed to circle back to it before long.  While I didn't love the book, I did like it and am glad that I decided to give it a try.

I knew that this was a book about trees before I started reading and it was.  Kind of.  Trees do play a very large role in the story but I really saw this as a book about people.  The book was told through the stories of several people whose lives were shaped or touched by the trees and nature around them.  Each of the characters had a unique and special relationship with the world around them and I was inspired by the measures that they took to protect their world.

The book initially reads like a collection of short stories.  We meet each of the characters in their younger years, usually as either children or teens, and see how trees have impacted their lives.  Then the book shifts gears and the lives of these characters start to converge and they start to have an impact on each other.  As the book drew closer to the end, the characters untangled themselves from each other and went back to a separate existence. 

I enjoyed each of the characters' stories but the strongest part of the book for me was when the majority of the characters were together worked towards a shared cause.  I really felt their passion as they worked to save the trees and the environment as a whole.  The book lost a lot of momentum for me as it drew to a close.  I found that the characters were not nearly as interesting apart as they had been together and the story became quite depressing. 

I did find the writing to be quite beautiful.  The descriptions used really brought nature to life and made me want to see it preserved.  I felt the impact of its destruction and understood why the characters were willing to sacrifice so much to protect what they could.  I do think that this book could have been trimmed a bit.  It did feel overly long at times. There was one character that had a story that was really very separate from the other characters and could have been completely omitted in my opinion. 

I am glad that I read this book.  It made me really think about our environment and the impact of our behaviors on the world around us.  I wouldn't hesitate to read more from Richard Powers in the future.

I received a copy of this book from W.W. Norton.
About the Author

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.

Author Links: Website

18 comments:

  1. It does sound like an interesting book

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  2. I'm not sure I would have picked this one, but it's true that I like to try different reads as well, so I'm glad to hear this book turned out to be good and actually had an impact on you :)

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    1. I probably wouldn't have picked it up for myself but I am glad that I read it.

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  3. I thought about reading this book because it was longlisted for the Man Booker Award. I like nature writing, but I probably won’t ever get to it because I have too many other books. I’m glad you mostly liked it!

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

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    1. I thought that it was well done although somewhat depressing.

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  4. The idea is interesting and I would be curious to see how it is in a whole book

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    1. I must say that I was really curious about how it would play out.

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  5. I saw this one was listed for the Booker which put me off reading it as I don't usually get on with their choices! However your review makes me think I would appreciate this one after all

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  6. Once in a while, I want something different from my norm to spice things up. It does draw me in. Good to know that it might not grab me all the time.

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    1. I really try to mix things up so different is good!

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  7. Good review! I love trees but I don't think I would have chosen this one. I also sometimes like to try different things but the politics of it would either bore me or anger me. Anne - Books of My Heart

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    1. I didn't find the book to be overly political. It made me sad to think of how much of our world is being destroyed by the actions of a few. I wouldn't have chosen this book but when it was offered, I found myself rather intrigued by the idea of the story.

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  8. This does sound really interesting, Carole. I do not usually read books like this either, but the description certainly caught my attention. I may have to give this one a try. It's good to know the weaknesses going in--that way I'll be prepared. :-)

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    1. It was a good book. I was really at a 4 star rating but was a bit depressed by the ending. I think it is definitely worth the read.

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  9. It's interesting that this is a novel but sort of reads like a collection of short stories as well. It seems like the trees in this one are quite symbolic and allude to a deeper meaning. Although you didn't ever really love it, I am glad you could like it. I don't think this is one for me though :/

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    1. It started out as stories but moved into more of a regular novel set up. I really did enjoy the book.

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