Review 2056: Bewilderment

Theo Byrne is an astrobiologist whose job is to search for life on other worlds. He is also a bereft widower and the father of Robin, a troubled nine-year-old boy. Robin is kind and super-intelligent, very concerned about animals, but he is also hyper-anxious and prone to horrible fits of rage. He has received conflicting diagnoses, and Theo doesn’t want to subject his growing brain to psychotropic drugs.

After a few incidents at school, Theo is aware that he soon may be butting heads with social services. So, when Stryker, a scientist at the university where Theo works, offers Robin a place in his experimental but noninvasive treatment studies, Theo accepts. The treatments seem to work magically well, but at the same time Theo fears that Robin is becoming a different person.

Theo and his environmental activist wife have brought Robin up to appreciate the abundance and beauty of natural life, so some of the most beautiful moments in this novel come during their camp-outs. Theo also entertains Robin with bedtime stories about the kinds of life that may be on other planets.

Powers has created an absolutely convincing story about the inner life of a fragile boy and his father, who is trying very hard but who himself is unusual and slightly off-kilter. He has set it in a slightly dystopian time with a Trump-like president and a background of social and environmental disintegration. The references in the beginning to the novel Flowers for Algernon set the tone for where the novel is going and despite a few smiles, there is no doubt that it is going there. Here is another troubling novel from Powers, very sad and powerful.

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Review 1664: Greenwood

Best of Ten!

Greenwood starts with an image of the cross-section of a tree trunk, this showing the novel’s structure. The novel begins in 2038, the outer ring of the tree, and visits four different years in the past, the center being 1908. Then it returns through each of those years to 2038.

In 2038, Jake Greenwood is an overqualified scientist working as a forest ranger in one of the few forests left on earth after the Great Wilt. She is glad to have the job in a world of excessively rich people and have-nots. Greenwood Island is a sort of private park that entertains the very wealthy by touring them through the forest.

Jake doesn’t think her family has a connection with the Greenwoods of the island, once owned by the fabulously wealthy lumber baron Harris Greenwood, but a lawyer arrives saying that she may have a claim to the island.

The novel returns back in time to visit Jake’s ancestors at important events in their lives. In 2008, Jake’s father Liam’s girlfriend leaves him and then lets him know she is pregnant. Later, doing a carpentry job, he has a serious accident.

In 1974, Liam’s mother Willow, an environmental activist, lives with Liam in her van and travels around sabotaging logging equipment.

In 1934, Everett, who makes a little money tapping and selling maple syrup, finds a baby hanging on a tree outside his cabin. Although he at first tries to give her away, he begins to think she’s in danger.

In 1908, two nine-year-old boys are the only survivors of a massive train wreck. When no one claims them, the town puts them in a cabin and provides the bare minimum of their needs, the boys growing up almost feral. The boys cannot remember their names, so the town calls them Harris and Everett Greenwood.

The novel is beautifully written and like The Overstory is concerned with trees and their impact on the world. Its descriptions of forests are lyrical. The plot itself is at times so involving as to read almost like a thriller. This is an unusual and absorbing novel.

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