Bewilderment

Richard Powers. Norton, $27.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-393-88114-1
Pulitzer winner Powers (The Overstory) offers up a marvelous story of experimental neurotherapy and speculations about alien life. Astrophysicist Theo Byrne simulates worlds outside Earth’s solar system as part of lobbying efforts for a new spaceborne telescope. As a single parent in Madison, Wis., his work takes a back seat—his wife, Aly, mother of their nine-year-old, Robin, died two years earlier. Theo shares his fictional descriptions of life on exoplanets with Robin in the form of bedtime stories, and they bond over a Trumpian administration’s hostility to scientific research. Theo allows Robin to protest neglect of endangered species at the state capitol, despite Robin’s volatile behavior. He’s been diagnosed with Asperger’s, OCD, and ADHD, and Theo refuses to give him psychoactive medication (“Life is something we need to stop correcting,” goes Theo’s new “crackpot theory”). More cutting-edge is the neurofeedback program run by an old friend of Aly’s, who trains Robin to model his emotions from a record saved of Aly’s brain activity. It works, for a while—the tragic, bittersweet plot has some parallels to Flowers to Algernon. The planetary descriptions grow a bit repetitive and don’t gain narrative traction, but in the end, Powers transforms the wrenching story into something sublime. Though it’s not his masterpiece, it shows the work of a master. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 07/07/2021
Release date: 09/21/2021
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 288 pages - 978-1-0390-0070-4
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