In one word: Gutting
I have something shocking to say. I hope you’re sitting down. I’m behind in my book reviews. I KNOW, I KNOW. Utterly surprising, as um, it’s become my habit, wherein I let a few books pile up, and then stress about being “behind” which I am using quotation marks to illustrate the falsity of this statement. Because how can I be “behind” in a hobby that is supposed to be fun. I mean, these are not required book reviews for a master’s degree. And yet, I anguish as the read and unreviewed books pile up. But hey, the good news is that I used to go so far as to not pick up new books to read until my reviews were caught up which like, okay, cool way to stay motivated, but also maybe a little punitive and I should be nicer to myself?
So, I’m here, I’m behind, I’m facing my silliness and chugging right along, Little Engine That Could style (choo choo). And now, without further vamping, an actual book review! Richard Powers, you did good work that stopped me in my book reviewing tracks. Because I absolutely did not want to think about this book again. It is a very cerebral novel, a well-crafted story by a brilliant writer, but it left me haunted.
I first learned of Powers when he came to my college as a visiting speaker (cough cough) years ago. We all were required to read his novel “Galatea 2.2” and today though I cannot tell you anything about that book, I can tell you that I remember the novel cracked my brain open a bit, and I still have my copy many moves later. So, I was excited to tackle his Pulitzer winner.
BUT THEN I realized that his Pulitzer winner is Overstory and all the accolades on the back of Bewilderment were about that, but too late, I was already home from the library with it, well played marketing team, so in I went.
This book has a scientific underpinning that was as fascinating as it was skimmable, in that my eyes hopped over a lot of the scientific descriptions to get back to the meaty story, a father trying to raise his son after the tragic death of his wife. Theo is an astrobiologist who spends his life researching what worlds could be out there in the galaxy, but is flummoxed by the galaxies contained within his son Robin, who is on the spectrum and in danger of being expelled due to a number of emotional outbursts. He is opposed to standard treatments and medications but a fellow researcher’s studies in mind mapping and emotional control offer an interesting treatment avenue, made even more interesting is the fact that they have Robin’s dead mother’s brain patterns to use in his treatments so that his mother’s emotions and experiences are training him and shaping his mind in powerful ways.
And if you read that and are like, “oh wow, that’s tragic” well I hate to tell ya, but that is like the tip of the heartbreaking iceberg that is this book. Robin’s mother spent her life waging political battles in a quest to save the environment and undo the damages created by man, and in this vaguely fictional reality, the world is crumbling all around, like murder hornets and covid times two. So we’ve got a father and son grieving a dead mom, environmental strife, and some dystopia. And still ALL OF THAT is still not the saddest turn of events in this book.
If you are looking for an intelligent and science-heavy book for the middle of winter when things are dire and you’d like a reminder that hey, your present experience could be worse, this book will check that box. But if you are looking for something light for summer? Something to give a respite from your own harsh reality? Run, don’t walk, away from this book.
All that to say, I still think I’ll pick up his Pultizer winner, as he’s a great writer and deep thinker but this one is just such a downer and we’ve all had a lot of downers in the past 2 years.