Richard Powers hit the big time with his Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Overstory a few years back. He also won the National Book Award in 2006 with this book. He’s been writing and publishing since the late 1980s, and there was a while (and still maybe a future) in which I thought I would be a “Richard Powers” guy. A lot of his writing is metafictional and experimental, but plenty of his books are simply complex, if otherwise realistic.
This book begins with a truck wreck, in which Mark flips his truck multiple times on a Nebraska highway and injures his brain. One of the manifested results of this this traumatic brain injury is Crapgas syndrome in which the sufferer believes that familiar faces have been replaced by imposters (as well as plenty of additional consequences). He fails to recognize his sister Karen, and even his dog. The novel then follows several narrative paths in telling this story. We get a lot of close perspective of Karen dealing with the aftermath of this wreck and how she’s had to return to her hometown to be there for her brother. We also get Mark’s narrative, and lastly we get Webber, a world-famous popular neuroscientist who looks into Mark’s case (he’s modeled slightly on Oliver Sacks here as well). Lastly we also get the narrative involving the cranes local to Nebraska near where Mark crashed, whose popularity has created the potential of habitat destruction.
What this book explored in its 450 pages is the knowability of selves and other people, and whether or not the collective knowledge we have about someone or something really tells us who they are.