Bewilderment by Richard Powers [10/10]

A consummate stylist with cerebral depth, Richard Powers is without peer among contemporary novelists. Not all his works succeed fully (I lauded his previous book, The Overstory, but wished the story came with a bit less thematic baggage), but “Bewilderment” is his masterpiece. The two central characters are Theo, an astrophysicist still mourning the tragic death of his wife, and nine-year-old Robin, a precocious, troubled boy obsessed about the looming fate of Earth. Told close-up from Theo’s vantage point, the novel begins with a respite camping trip and then plunges into Robin’s participation in a leading edge experiment in which he is fed his dead mother’s emotional biofeedback. All this a few years into the future, with the planet under stress and America roiled by the return of never-named Trump. Thus with just this storytelling setup, the reader imbibes Powers’s insights into far outer space, into biofeedback, into the climate crisis (especially the slowly looming species’ extinctions), and into the role of science in our modern world. Yet none of this is heavy. Instead, Bewilderment is a beautiful tale of a father’s endless love for his son in terrible times. Sentence for sentence, Powers writes like no other; I was swept up by the precise beauty of every paragraph. The ending had me, and still has me, in tears. Do yourself a favor … more, do your friends a favor, and make sure you and all those you know receive the grace of this wondrous novel: Bewilderment.

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