Liza's Reviews > The Gold Bug Variations

The Gold Bug Variations by Richard Powers
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's review
May 03, 2009

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bookshelves: nyc
Read in July, 2009

** spoiler alert ** This is the second Richard Powers book I've read and once again I'm left feeling that he looked up from his manuscript in the last 100 pages, realized he had to add a climax to the tale, and that this realization nearly spoiled everything.

I would not recommend reading this book during summer, while on the subway, or during a particular frenetic period in one's life, because this tome commands strict attention to detail and extracurricular reading/listening. I think I failed on all accounts. First off, I should have listed to Bach's "Goldberg Variations." I'm not even sure if I've heard the piece before, but I'm too cheap to buy it because I imagine (hope) I've inherited it in the form of one of my father's LPs, currently residing in a storage unit on the border of Nassau County. Secondly, I should have brushed up on my genetics, because several sections of this book explore the science and implications of genetics. Thirdly, I should probably travel with a small dictionary, because Powers challenged my vocabulary every few pages.

That said, I did enjoy the main characters in this tale. A shy, neurotic reference librarian and her eccentric patron/lover trying to figure out why an older colleague of his abandoned his promising work in genetics before becoming the next Watson or Crick. The secondary plots were less intriguing to me. Most intriguing was the subject of inheritance: the choices these men and women made (or were unable to make) regarding parenthood and the implications therein. What I like most about Powers is the issues he forces readers to explore that correspond to the greater Human Condition.

Written in 1991, The Goldbug Variations also serves as a capsule of a previous era: inchoate Internet, in-vitro fertilization not yet responsible every set of twins you see in their deluxe double stroller on the sidewalks of Brooklyn. Reading this reinforced how much information-seeking has transformed. Want to know about someone's past? "Google them." We have new excuses for abstaining from human contact, from that simple act of just--I know this is a radical idea--asking what happened. And that a major part of the plot is the inability to procreate, well . . . just fork over $90,000, and that's solved.

I doubt there's a demand for it, but I would love for Powers to release a new edition of his work with a preface examining the work against today's world. I struggled and fought against this book for a long time while reading it, but I know it will linger in my mind for ages, or at least until I read another Powers tome.
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Reading Progress

06/30/2009 page 63
9.84% "Already 2 mentions of "Facts on File", not "Facts On File"." 1 comment
07/07/2009 page 267
41.72% "this in one hand; dictionary in the other"
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