Sunday, December 06, 2020

The Overstory

I've put off writing a post about The Overstory, by Richard Powers, because I don't really know what I want to say so maybe I'll just start writing and see what happens.

I heard about this novel when it first came out and picked it up when we were visiting Port Townsend, WA in September 2019 and then let it sit on my TBR shelf for over a year. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2019 and rightly so. It is a rich, complex novel, well-written, and thought provoking. So why the mental block when it comes to what I thought? Maybe the richness and complexity was a bit overwhelming and I needed some time to digest the novel. That's as good a reason as any.

The novel tells the story of the destruction of the ecosystem we like to call Earth from the point of view of the trees, and Powers uses the personal stories of a half a dozen or so people whose lives connect and intersect as they encounter and grapple with the reality of the Earth's life forces that humans are systematically and knowingly destroying.

I can't say that I necessarily like any of the main characters although I found each of their stories fascinating and both sobering and inspiring as well as disturbing. There's some mystical and magical realism elements, lots of science, lots of hand-wringing, and lots of passion.

I gave it 5 stars on GoodReads, and I found myself unable to put it down except when I was literally too tired to read another word. Not sure I will reread this one, but glad I finally got around to reading it.

There are a lot of articles and reviews out there about what the story means and what each of the characters represents. Like most great novels, there is plenty of room for all sorts of theories. With a book like this, I like to just experience it on a visceral level and not get overly intellectual about what it means...other than that we need to take climate change pretty darn seriously.


  1. I started the audio when this first came out and decided I wanted a copy in print. I bought it and still haven't read it - 2021 will be the year. Glad you like this one so much

  2. I have heard a lot about this book. It sounds very different and very original.

    I find that I often like, characters who are unlikable, if that makes any sense.

  3. Hi Jane, I have had that experience with books where I finish the novel and I know I read something important and thoughts are swirling around my head but I need to go to the critics to get their views on what the author was trying to say. In fact I'm having that experience now having just finished The Great Gatsby. Its true, superior books take time to digest.

  4. This is not a book I'd normally pick up, but hearing that you never wanted to put it down when you were reading it makes me reconsider. :)

  5. I read the first section of this book last year and was so impressed. Had to return it to the library before finishing, so bought myself a copy shortly afterwards... it finally came out of storage last month when we moved into the house. It's time to pick it up again!

    1. I did the read/listen approach on this one, and it worked well. I think just reading it might have been a bit oppressive.

  6. I'm glad you wrote about this one -- as I still need to read it .... maybe b/c it was long and complex I have (wrongly) put it off ... but 2021 is hopefully the year for it!