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The Overstory
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Archive: Other Books > (POLL BALLOT) The Overstory / Richard Powers - 3***

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message 1: by Book Concierge (last edited May 17, 2020 07:25PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 6169 comments The Overstory by Richard Powers
The Overstory – Richard Powers
Audible audiobook performed by Suzanne Toren

From the book jacket: An Air Force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. These four, and five other strangers – each summoned in different ways by trees – are brought together in a last and violent stan to save the continent’s few remaining acres of virgin forest.

My reactions
I am having a very hard time pinpointing what it was about this book that I found so fascinating. Because I WAS interested, despite my overall rating. I tend to gravitate towards character-driven works, and this is certainly that. Nine “main” characters is a daunting task, and Powers does a pretty good job of keeping the story moving while giving each of them their due. They are complex people and even those that I did not particularly like I still found interesting. Reminds me a bit of a Richard Altman film.

Melding nine different points of view into a cohesive story arc is challenging enough, but Powers also uses an extraordinarily long timeline, taking the reader from antebellum New York to 20th century Pacific Northwest. And while that time frame includes many generations of people, for some trees “born” at the beginning of that time, they would be mere adolescents at the end.

There is the underlying message of environmental stewardship, which humans seem to be doing a very bad job of. But Powers' use of so many different stories to convey this message seemed to detract from the impact of the message. I’m very glad that I read Hope Jahren’s memoir Lab Girl earlier this year, because that really helped me understand the underlying science in this work of fiction. And yet, I can certainly see why some readers have classified this as “magical realism” for certain sections (particularly when Powers writes about how the trees communicate with one another) – sections that Jahren’s scientific work seems to support.

I admit I have waited too long after finishing this book to write this review. I had hoped my F2F book club discussion would help clarify my thoughts on the book. And then COVID19 cancelled our meeting … So, my apologies to fellow readers and to the author for my delay and resulting vagueness.

The audiobook is masterfully performed by Suzanne Toren. She has a lot of characters to portray and manages to give them unique voices so that I was rarely confused. (At least not after I understood the multiple narrators.) Still, I think I may want to re-read this in text format before my F2F book club finally gets to it in October.

LINK to my review

message 2: by Meli (new) - added it

Meli (melihooker) | 3483 comments My f2f bookclub read this but I didn't manage to finish and I may have to revisit later.
I made it halfway through and it was brilliantly written up to that point, but dense and not attention grabbing.
Learned a lot about trees!

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 5773 comments Great Review! I've wanted to read this since I read the Hidden Life of Trees. It supported the idea of trees communicating with one another for their mutual benefit. I wonder if some day, we'll learn that other seemingly magical things are real too.

I've been putting it off until my brain is ready for a challenge. Actually I don't think I finished the last few chapters of Hidden Life of Trees. Maybe I'll read all three books, including Lab Girl in the same month to catch all the connections.

Susie | 4488 comments I adored this book, and my view of trees will never be the same. I agree about the density. I listened to the audio and I remember it took me forever, but I still felt that it was a grand accomplishment and couldn’t help giving it five. I plan to go back and read it rather than listen to it at some stage. I wonder if my rating will change.

message 5: by Meli (new) - added it

Meli (melihooker) | 3483 comments Another thing that was striking was his ability to write these complicated 3-dimensional characters of wildly different backgrounds that felt very organic and real. I was curious how he did research to flesh out the characters, or how much research... of course not to mention all the tree / nature knowledge to research! Truly a masterful work (with my limited 50% completion).

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