Book 9 of 2021

The Overstory by Richard Powers

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2019.

Not a book I would naturally be drawn to, and if I’m honest, it was a bit of a slog at times.

It’s a book about trees.

It follows the lives of eight very different characters through a series of extended short stories. One thing they all have in common is trees. Each character has a special relationship with trees. Eventually all the different and rather messy plot lines start getting tangled together.

By following these very different people we get a clear idea how climate, and climate change, touches every inch of the Earth.

The separate storylines are quite complicated, it feels very long in places. But what Powers is pretty good at is describing trees. The beautiful poetic descriptions means the book becomes almost dreamlike at times.

It’s a novel about the natural world and our power as human beings to destroy it or redeem it.

There is one passage in the novel that I’d like to share…

Say the planet is born at midnight and runs for one day.

First there is nothing. Two hours are lost to lava and meteors. Life doesn’t show up until three or four am. From dawn to late morning nothing more exists than lean and simple cells.

Something wild happens, not long after noon. Cells evolve.

Dusk falls before compound life takes hold. Every large living thing is a latecomer, showing up after dark. Nine pm brings jellyfish and worms. Later that hour comes the breakout – backbones, cartilage, an explosion of body forms.

Plants make it up on land just before ten. Then insects, who instantly take to the air. Moments later, tetrapods crawl out of the sea. By eleven, dinosaurs have shot their bolt, leaving mammals and birds in charge for an hour.

Somewhere in that last sixty minutes, life grows aware. Creatures start to speculate. Animals start teaching their children.

Anatomically modern man shows up four seconds before midnight.

By midnight, most of the globe is converted to grow crops for the care and feeding of one species. And that’s when the tree of life becomes something else again. That’s when the giant trunk starts to teeter.


Couldn’t end the post without some trees:

Next up: Ghost Boys

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