"The world had enough novels," Richard Powers wrote in " Galatea 2.2, his semi-autobiographical and arguably best novel, published in 1995. "Some writers were better paid to keep their domains out of production.
Among these writers, a quarter of a century later, perhaps Powers himself. His new one, "Perplexity ", is so sweet, sweet, and disproportionate in his piety to nature that even a teaspoon of it numbs the mind.
" Perplexity "is the continuation of "The Overstory (2018), his beloved novel about trees, the importance of maintaining forests and folks, in that order. He won a Pulitzer Prize and made Powers something close to a secular saint. Let no one say he was overrated.
" The Overstory "was seen as improving, educational and concerned, as magazines - Mindful, Rock and Ice, Naked Food, Dwell, Runner 's World, Yoga - on display at Whole Foods , and therefore healthy to watch transporting.
Good novels are rarely built on good intentions or politics. Pauline Kael has said so about the cinema, and this applies more to novels: "the good ones never make you feel virtuous.
"Perplexity" is at the both a serious opinion page essay (humans + nature = yuck) and a science fiction productn Mediocre Netflix (boy reconnects with dead mother using high tech).
The narrator is Theo Byrne, a grieving astrobiologist. He seeks life in the cosmos while raising Robin, his sensitive 9-year-old son. Robin's mother Alyssa - birder, vegan, hiker, activist, friend of abandoned dogs - died two years earlier in a car accident.
The young Robin is bright and gentle but compulsive and quick to anger. When a pediatrician suggests he might be "on the spectrum," his father thinks, "I wanted to tell man that everyone living on this little planet by chance was on the spectrum." This is what a spectrum is . "
Robin is about to 'being kicked out of third grade for impulsively punching a boy in the face. Theo doesn't want to greet m on Ritalin or aother psychoactive drugs.
Cutting-edge science and technology is often tucked away in Powers' novels like the B inside 'a BLT In "Puzzlement," the crisp educational component comes in the form of experimental neurofeedback treatments, their promises, and their dangers. Image Richard Powers, whose new novel is "Perplexity ". Credit ... Dean D. Dixon
These treatments involve scans of the brain and suggested emotional states and the potential to smoothly synchronize minds with d other spirits, even in time. Alyssa participated in one of these experiments before her mort, and its “connectivity patterns” are saved. Could it help Robin to be able to sync with these?
One of the states suggested by Alyssa was "ecstasy" and she hit him out of the park. Powers doesn't begin to explore the Oedipal implications when Robin enters his head.
The medical science depicted in "Perplexity " is really interesting, in the way from an article in the New Yorker. As fiction, the novel is D.O.A. - superficiality that needs to be taken seriously.
The rap against the Powers novels was that they were cold. Margaret Atwood, summing up the complaints, once said that the idea was that he was "not comfortable enough at the base ". exactly, but he has a noticeable sentimentality. Theo and Robin bond as they walk and talk about nature. This is Trump's world over there, and the plug hasjumped out of the shaken bottle of sparkling water.
The central question of the novel is the same as that posed in "The Overstory " by Douggie Pavlicek, a Vietnam War veteran turned eco-warrior: "What the [Expletive] went wrong with mankind?
The dialogue reminded me of this from afar in my favorite third grade novel, "Jonathan Livingston Seagull " by Richard Bach.
Robbie speaks in italics throughout, like he's an oracle or, like the baby in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" , Imaginary. "Don't worry, dad. Earth will, "he said. And: " Spring will keep coming, no matter what. Isn't it, daddy? "And: " New planet, dad. Please. "And:" There is something wrong with us, dad. "
Robin adds, M. Night Shyamalanishly: "Your wife loves youe. You know that, don't you?
Theo says to him: "People, Robbie. It 'sa questionable species. " He thinks: "There was a planet that didn't know where everyone was. She died of loneliness. "And: " Oh, this planet was a good planet. "
For being fair to Powers, he retains an ability to alchimize the weirdness of everyday world life - over paying a taxi driver, for example: "I put my card in the taxi reader and the credits flowed from a server farm nestled in the melting tundra of northern Sweden in the virtual hands of the taxi driver. But those moments are rare here.
There are books you want to give to your best friend; here's one to give to your distant aunt, for their group reading. It's a James Taylor song when you need a buzz-saw guitar. HeThere is no impudence, no spirit, no fire and little floating understanding, despite ostentatious science, of the actual workings of the human mind.
It 'sa book on ecological salvation that kind of makes you want to give an otter a little kick, for no good reason.