Richard Pow­ers

The Week (US) - - Arts 25 - Michael Berry Michael Alec Rose

You might say that Richard Pow­ers is branch­ing out, said

in Sier­r­a­Club .org. With his sweep­ing new novel, The Over­story, the Na­tional Book Award– win­ning au­thor of The Echo Maker has found a way to cast trees as cen­tral char­ac­ters. “Trees are ev­ery bit as so­cial as we are,” he says; they also have their own wants and needs. Pow­ers ini­tially as­pired to cre­ate a novel that pushed all hu­man char­ac­ters into sec­ondary roles, but he even­tu­ally chose to fo­cus on nine in­di­vid­u­als who sep­a­rately come to ap­pre­ci­ate that ev­ery tree is a crea­ture with a will, a mem­ory, com­mu­nal ties, and the abil­ity to adapt to con­di­tions and com­mu­ni­cate with oth­ers. “I tried,” he says, “to tell a story that changes a reader’s ca­pac­ity to iden­tify with th­ese mag­nif­i­cent liv­ing things.”

Quite a few ar­bo­real he­roes en­joy mo­ments in the spot­light, said in BookPage. There’s the an­cient coastal red­wood whose branches be­come a hu­man cou­ple’s home. In Viet­nam, a 300-year-old banyan saves a U.S. Air Force sergeant when he falls from a cargo plane. The main hu­man char­ac­ters, mean­while, strug­gle to per­suade other peo­ple to see trees as they should be seen, and Pow­ers doesn’t mind if his novel is la­beled di­dac­tic. “I hap­pen to be­lieve that we hu­mans are deeply, dan­ger­ously de­ranged, and that only a pro­found shift in con­scious­ness will keep us vi­able in this place,” he says. “The sto­ries that will do us some good, this late in the day, are the ones that can di­rect our at­ten­tion, for a mo­ment, to all the as­ton­ish­ment that isn’t us.”

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