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The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fable that range from antebellum New York to the late 20th-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
An air force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits 100 years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another.
These and five other strangers, each summoned in different ways by trees, are brought together in a last and violent stand to save the continent's few remaining acres of virgin forest. There is a world alongside ours - vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.
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By Vince Reardon on 05-04-18
We Are a Part of Nature
This majestic novel reminds us that we are not apart from Nature but are a part of Nature, and our survival may depend on our collective realization of that reality. Divided into four parts: Roots (which introduces the nine main characters), Trunk (which shows how the characters are related to one another, although several never actually meet), Crown (which catches up with the characters 20 years later), and Seeds (which shows you how each ends up). Powers creates a group of lively and believable characters, most born in the '50s and '60s, who emerge slowly and lushly over time, much like a stand of trees.
Perhaps the most interesting and riveting of characters is Dr. Patricia Westerford who conducts original research proving that trees are social creatures that "must have evolved ways to synchronize with each other." Rejected and ridiculed by the scientific establishment, she leaves academia to become forest ranger. Another character Adam Appich, a grad student in psychology, also fascinated me. He discovers that "humans need good stories to be persuaded by scientists' alarms." Late in the novel he concludes, "Humankind is deeply ill. The species won't last long. It was an aberrant experiment." I am not, however, certain that that is Powers' opinion.
While listening to "The Overstory," I felt the spirits of Thoreau and Muir nearby. Also nearly were: James Lovelock whose Gaia hypothesis postulates that the Earth functions as a self-regulating system, Donald Peattie's "Natural History of North American Trees," and German forester Peter Wohlleben's "The Hidden Life of Trees." It is interesting that Patricia Westerford shares the same initials as Peter Wohlleben.
This is one of Powers' finest works. I heartily recommend it to those who love Nature, especially trees and forests, and are worried about the fragile state of the environment around the world. This novel will draw you deeper and deeper into that complex, shimmering and often invisible world.
Finally, the Audible narrator Suzanne Toren is superb. A great novel requires a great narrator. Toren fits the bill. She brings "The Overstory" to life.
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