The Overstory

Richard Powers

Book cover

This book is ambitious and worth reading, but I ended up having mixed feelings about it.

It’s a long book that has a very wide scope, following something like 8-9 characters who have some connection to trees and experience traumatic events that end up bringing (most of) them together. The book does contain a lot of interesting material on the frontiers of our biological knowledge about trees (which I believe is meant to be true to life, though I don’t know enough to verify independently and didn’t check).

The main thing that I didn’t like was that Powers makes a number of forays toward non-realist or speculative-fiction elements in the plot, but in all cases I felt they were half-hearted:

[spoilers removed]

The story would have been fine/great if Powers had either stuck to realism, or really committed to these mystical elements. As it is, we have a 500 page book (which I think could have been shorter) with probably three pages worth of mystical stuff in it.

The quantum-branching concept would have been really interesting to explore further, and an obvious topical connection to tree-branching. I was disappointed when the intimations of this kind of process didn’t end up playing a bigger role in the book.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars