Monday, May 1, 2023

read: The Overstory (4 stars)

The OverstoryThe Overstory by Richard Powers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had really hoped for this Pulitzer Prize winning novel to be 5 stars. But it never got there for me. At first it surprised me by not being a novel, but several seemingly unrelated short stories (except each one is about trees). The writing also seemed oddly perfunctory for such an artistic endeavor. I stuck with it and they grew on me.
Then the author started weaving those stories and their characters together into a more engaging epic. Here we go, I thought. Except we didn't go. At least not quickly. Perhaps the author intended the stately pace of his prose to reflect the history-spanning subject of the story: trees. They do not move or think (in the eyes of the story) quickly, relative to human experience. Yet the characters in the novel discover that they do both.
Thus, the book is actually a science fiction story. We have been surrounded by aliens all this time and did not realize it. The trees, and the rest of life on Planet Earth that they are linked to, preceded us and will succeed us. Perhaps they even harbor a bit of sentience, even if we do not understand it. Or they don't. It doesn't matter. It is still life.
For me, all of that would be the foundation of a 5-star story. Especially when it includes eco-warriors and computer geniuses and unrecognized artists. But I have to knock off a half star for the writing being just a bit too artsy and drawn out. And take off another half star for being printed in a font that's just too small for such dense prose (trying to pack 128,000 words into 500 pages). I feel enlightened for reading this book. But it was more of a chore than it probably should have been.

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