I’ve followed Richard Powers for decades and my opinion that The Goldbug Variations (1991) is his best stands. Now we have Bewilderment which has made the prize/award lists, but that’s happened before – he’s collected a LOT of awards starting in 1985.
by Richard Powers
2021 / (288 pages)
Read by Edoardo Ballerini 7h 51m
Rating: 7.5 – B / contemp SF
The story is about Theo Byrne who, after his wife is killed in an auto accident, is left to raise their volatile nine-year-old son Robin. Robin has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, obsessive–compulsive disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He’s a brilliant and hyper-sensitive handful.
The story is told in the 1st person of Theo as he tries to help his son grow up. Theo is an astro-biologist who works as part of a group seeking life in the universe. Even after several years, he and Robin still grieve the death of Theo’s wife and Robin’s mom.
The setting is a few years in the future and the end of life on earth is becoming apparent. Theo and Robin are more acutely aware of this than most. His mother had tried to warn people.
The book starts out very nicely but when it got weird I got confused and mentally turned off. Imo, Powers has mixed astronomy with the occult. I’m not big on occult. He tries to make it science but … well, not for me.
Even after being angry at Byrne for putting the child in the public school system I continued to try to like the book, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I was lost for most of it – I caught the gist most of the time (I think). I might reread it in January when it comes up for discussion in a reading group.
Powers isn’t noted for the quality of his writing so much as the originality of his thinking. But in this book the foreshadowing is terrific – “That may have been a mistake” leads one forward to the question why. “What’s going to happen because of this?”
And I’m going to have to at least try to reread this book for the poetry of the language. I did catch glimpses of that.