Richard Powers's "The Overstory" soars up through the canopy of American literature and remakes the landscape of environmental fiction.
Long celebrated for his compelling, cerebral books, Powers demonstrates a remarkable ability to tell dramatic, emotionally involving stories while delving into subjects many readers would otherwise find arcane. He's written about genetics, pharmaceuticals, artificial intelligence, music and photography. In 2006, his novel about neurology, "The Echo Maker," won a National Book Award. And now he's turned his attention, more fully than ever before, to our imperiled biome and particularly to the world's oldest, grandest life-forms: trees.
"The Overstory" moves the way an open field evolves into a thick forest: slowly, then inevitably. For a while, its various stories develop independently, and it's not apparent that they have anything to do with one another. But have faith in this world-maker. Powers is working through tree-history, not human-history, and the effect is like a time-lapse video. Soon enough his disparate characters set out branches that touch and mingle: Before the Civil War, a Norwegian immigrant travels to Iowa and begins homesteading in the largely empty new. . . .
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