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Booker Longlist 2021 – Bewilderment

Bewilderment, Richard Powers

Book 5 – Read and reviewed by BookWorm, Tracy, Lisa & Nicole

Synopsis from Booker Prize website: Theo Byrne is a promising young astrobiologist who has found a way to search for life on other planets dozens of light years away. He is also the widowed father of a most unusual nine-year-old. His son Robin is funny, loving, and filled with plans. He thinks and feels deeply, adores animals, and can spend hours painting elaborate pictures. He is also on the verge of being expelled from third grade, for smashing his friend’s face with a metal thermos.

What can a father do, when the only solution offered to his rare and troubled boy is to put him on psychoactive drugs? What can he say when his boy comes to him wanting an explanation for a world that is clearly in love with its own destruction? The only thing for it is to take the boy to other planets, all the while fostering his desperate campaign to help save this one.

Richard Powers is the author of 12 previous novels. His most recent, The Overstory, was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize and won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and the 2020 American Academy of Arts and Letters’ William Dean Howells Medal for the most distinguished American work of fiction published in the last five years. The Overstory has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 68 weeks to date. Powers is also the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the National Book Award, among other accolades. He lives in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

BookWorm’s Thoughts:  “I’m not crying, you’re crying” man this book hit me hard I let myself fall in love with Robin only to have my heartbroken.

The writing is gorgeous, the characters are beautiful and the story is a unique blend of science fact and science fiction with a little sprinkling of magical realism just for that extra something. At times I felt the climate change/animal extinction message was hammered home a little too forcefully and a little too often but this is a minor annoyance in the overall symphony that is Bewilderment.

I also loved the way one of my favourite science fiction stories is blended into the story of Robin and his father even if it did mean that I knew where we were going in the end.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development: 4/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 19/20

Nicole’s Thoughts: This book was perfect. Powers has an incredible imagination – I have no idea if the big “science experiment” (keeping this spoiler free) is based on something real or if he made it up, but it was a thing of beauty.  Though this book was very short, it felt like a much longer novel.  I was totally immersed.

Obviously this book is largely about climate change, but I felt he did it without being preachy and wove it into the story.  There is no denying where Powers falls on the political spectrum, and that will turn 50% of readers off.  It’s too bad, really.  His commentary on political leaders was searing and accurate.  While reading this book it became clear to me that the US is in a civil war.  A war of ideologies not weapons.

Social commentary and sustainability weren’t the only themes, however.  There was love, loss and family as well.  Packed into less than 300 pages.  Amazing book.  Beautifully and skillfully done.  Powers is a master.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development: 4/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 20/20

Tracy’s Thoughts: Powers has an agenda, especially in these last few years- the environment. Some may not appreciate this, and say he’s preachy. They may be right. 

But he’s right, too. 

And his message is delivered very well. Theo and Robin’s loss of Aly and of their dog is felt throughout the book. Robin’s crusade to further his mother’s (an environmental lawyer) cause is heartfelt and moving. This veers a bit to the speculative- Theo works for SETI, and Powers hints that the US has moved so far to the right that it’s now a dictatorship that is decidedly anti-science. The research done by Theo’s former rival is also speculative, at least for now, and that plot point could have gone a very different way. Kudos to Powers for keeping it reined. 

The writing was Powers at his best- and the book was- shock!!- less than 300 pages. Highly recommended. 

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot: 4/4
Enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 19/20

Lisa’s Thoughts: Bewilderment is the perfect title for this novel, and the perfect way to describe how I, like the Richard Powers, feel in the world today. The main character, Theo, is bewildered by the U.S. government, climate change, his wife’s death, and his son Robin’s reactions to that death. He is lost, literally, in the universe, and is trying to just do his best by his son. At the same time, Richard Powers weaves in philosophical questions about what it might mean to understand another person’s mind, making a somewhat believable jump from existing biofeedback technology. Richard Powers is so good at this: he can talk about science and technology and human relationships and it all fits together. This will likely be one of my favorites.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 4/4
Overall enjoyment:2/2
Total: 19/20

Rankings so far
Bewilderment 19.25/20
No one is Talking about This 16.83
Second Place 16
Klara and the Sun 13.3
China Room 13.1

The Panel loved this one what did you think?

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. LisaU #

    Bookworm, which science fiction story is blended in ?

    Like

    August 21, 2021
    • Book Worm #

      Flowers for Algernon

      Like

      August 21, 2021
  2. Remedial Stitcher #

    I can’t wait to read this!

    Like

    August 21, 2021
  3. I received book vouchers for my recent birthday, and your review has encouraged me to move Bewilderment to the top of my shopping list.

    Like

    August 21, 2021
  4. pbtanita #

    Wow, this one sounds amazing . . .even though it might be more political than I normally like. Definitely going to give it a shot.

    Like

    August 22, 2021

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