Once I picked up Richard Powers' new novel, Bewilderment, it kept me reading compulsively at the expense of other things I ought to have been doing. Throughout, I was aware that Powers was building and interweaving scientific, philosophical, and literary patterns; but until I had finished it, I couldn't see just how strong the cumulative effect would be. Then this morning, I read the last ten pages.
The novel has received mixed reviews. Everyone agrees that it moves swiftly; most acknowledge the beauty and skill of Powers' prose The detractors mostly focus on some aspect of ordinary fiction and ignore what's really going on in the book. One complained that the dead mother was not developed as a character. Another complained that Powers is reworking themes he has treated before. (Well, duh, don't most authors, not only the formulaic genre writers but serious literary writers who have deep concerns?) If you are looking for a light read or a character study that resolutely shuts out more-than-human concerns (as if climate catastrophe were not a human concern!), then skip Bewilderment.
But if you want to know what Powers himself thinks he is up to, read this NPR interview. For why it is shortlisted for the Booker Prize, click here. For a review by someone who takes the science seriously, try GeekDad. And for a review in a magazine with a profound philosophical slant, read what Orion has to say.
As for me? Definitely a must-reread. You haven't read a book until you've read it twice (or three times or four). This one will offer new revelations each time.