Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Overstory

The Overstory by Richard Powers
W.W. Norton & Company: 4/3/18
eBook review copy; 512 pages
ISBN-13: 9780393635522

The Overstory by Richard Powers is a very highly recommended, masterful, epic saga about trees and our relationship to them.

"The tree is saying things, in words before words."
There are nine main characters in this story that spans over fifty years. The novel is broken down into four main sections, Roots, Trunk, Crown, and Seeds. The chapters in each section follow the main characters introduced in "Roots." The characters include Nick Hoel. Mimi Ma, Adam Appicj, Ray and Dorothy, Doug  Pavlicek, Neelay Mehta, Patricia Westerford, and Olivia Vandergriff. Their individual stories are presented like short stories at the beginning, with a common theme between them. Then in "Trunk" the characters begin to meet or join forces, have epiphanies, or start their life's work. They are all summoned in different ways by trees to take a stand to save the few remaining acres of virgin forest from industrial harvesting and environmental destruction.

The writing is exquisite and meticulous in this finely detailed novel. I appreciated the introduction and development of the characters in the opening chapters, which resemble short stories. This choice to introduce all of these characters before the larger story took shape worked well for me and I was pleased to then see the characters begin to join together. The connectedness of all things is depicted in the overall theme and in the arrangement of the story. Powers includes information about individual species of trees throughout the narrative. The term "Eco Opera" is an apt description for this monumental novel.

It is an emotional novel and I did find myself tearing up or becoming incensed at several points. The time span of the story serves well when considering the growth of a tree. While the novel does not attempt to persuade any one to become an eco-terrorist or take on environmental activism, it does have some wonderful insight into how humans need to realize that everything is connected and how losing parts of the natural world, trees, could eventually lead to our own demise. The Overstory is a novel to relish and appreciate the fine writing and the message.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company.

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