Bewilderment Richard Powers Audiobook
The author of The Overstory, who won the Pulitzer Prize and was nominated for the Booker Prize, has released a new novel.
Theo Byrne is a brilliant young astronomer who has developed a method for searching for life on planets hundreds of light-years away. He’s also the widowed father of a remarkable nine-year-old daughter. His son, Robin, is witty, caring, and full of ideas. He has strong emotions and ideas, and he enjoys animals. He can spend hours making intricate drawings. He’s also about to be expelled from third grade after slamming a metal thermos into the face of a classmate.
What can a father do when the only option for his rare and problematic son is to put him on psychotropic drugs? What can he say to his son when he asks him to explain a world that appears to be obsessed with its own demise? The only way to save this planet is to transport the child to other planets while encouraging his son’s desperate attempt to save this one.
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The Smoky Mountains, which border North Carolina, are among the highlights of an East Tennessee childhood. They were taller than the Himalayas three hundred million years ago. They have since eroded into a spine of rounded summits tiered with oak and hickory. A waterfall is always just a short hike away, and damp paths laced with fern and poison oak run alongside purling streams. The National Park receives over 11 million visitors each year, but there are numerous secluded coves and ridges where you can pitch your tent in complete solitude.
This is the landscape Richard Powers conjures reverently in the opening pages of Bewilderment, his first novel since the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Overstory. Bewilderment teaches us to think critically while also feeling extravagantly through prose that connects head and heart.
Powers’ narrator, Theo Byrne, an astrobiologist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, has removed his nine-year-old neurodivergent son, Robin, from school after an unsettling incident. A father and son rent a cabin, swim in freshets, and sleep under the Milky Way, but their idyllic life hides a dark secret. Alyssa, Theo’s wife, and vivacious lawyer and animal-rights activist, was killed in a head-on collision two years before. Even her husband and son are baffled by the circumstances surrounding her death, but in a series of flashbacks, Alyssa’s own demons emerge.
From The Gold Bug Variations to Galatea 2.2 to The Overstory, Powers, who studied physics in college before changing majors, is perhaps the most science-infused literary fiction writer. So it’s no surprise that science powers the middle section of Bewilderment. Robin’s problems worsen when he and his father return to Madison and are confronted with an ultimatum from his school’s principal: either find a solution to his behavior or the authorities will intervene. Theo reluctantly enrolls his son in a radical experimental therapy that Alyssa and Theo tried in an earlier iteration. A neurologist who has been caring for Alyssa’s plates now offers to connect Robin with his mother’s «ecstasy.» Robin blossoms, adopting Alyssa’s speech and mannerisms as if her ghost has slipped into his body, infuriating Theo.
Powers uses detail sparingly, revealing only snippets of Theo’s backstory. «Lots of monsters inhabited my sunless depths,» he admits in passing, without further explanation. Although Theo’s wife and son have improved him, Powers renders their voices in italics—they represent an Otherness, human goodness that Theo cannot access. Only his imagination can heal Theo’s, broken heart. His job is to sift through data from the Kepler telescope for chemical traces of potential life in exoplanets, but he’s also inspired to create worlds for Robin, such as Tedia, doomed to a constant drumbeat of death and rebirth, and Stasis, an Earth-like planet with little axis tilt and thus no seasons.