Book Review –The Overstory – A novel by Richard Powers.
Yes, The Overstory is a novel. But as a novel, this book could stand alongside any scientific paper or piece of academic research dealing with the harmful effects humans have on the planet. As literature, The Overstory has been compared to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. I agree. The Overstory was awarded the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
The Overstory begins with a series of engaging short stories. It then transcends into a thread that weaves itself through the timber wars of the 1980”s and beyond. If you don’t like tree huggers, but side with the forest industry, this is not the book for you. If you don’t believe in the use of violence to further a cause (I don’t) but furthermore, go so far as to dislike even reading about such acts, then this is not your book. Excerpted from page 337, “Destroying federal property. Serious stuff. The Vietnam vet replies, ‘I’ve committed real violent crimes. Commissioned by the government.’ Yesterday’s political criminals are on today’s postage stamps.” If such radicals offend you, then . . . enough said.
As I read the book, I marked some passages:
“Aspens propagate by root; they spread. There are aspen colonies up north where the ice sheets were, older than the sheets themselves. The motionless trees are migrating-immortal stands of aspen retreating before the latest two-mile-thick glaciers, then following back north again.”
“When the lateral roots of two Douglas-firs run into each other underground, they fuse. Through these self-grafted knots, the two trees join their vascular systems and become one. Networked together underground by countless thousands of miles of living fungal threads, these trees feed and heal each other, keep their young and sick alive, pool their resources and metabolize into community chests.” P 142
“Before it dies, a Douglas-fir, half a millennium old, will send its storehouse of chemicals back down into its roots and out through its fungal partners, donating its riches to the community pool in a last will and testament. We might call these ancient benefactors giving trees.” P 221. I urge you to read Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree, if you have not already.
“We don’t make reality. We just evade it. So far. By looting natural capital and hiding the costs. But the bill is coming and we won’t be able to pay. P 320.
The last chapter, “Seeds,” begins with a narrative that condenses the entire existence of the Earth into a single 24 hour day. Modern man shows up at four seconds before midnight. “By midnight, most of the globe is converted to row 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.”
The Overstory by Richard Powers, W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (April 3, 2018). Hardcover – 512 pages.