Saturday, February 09, 2019

ORFEO



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Orfeo, Richard Powers, W W Norton & Company, 2014, 396 pp
 
 
Last year I read The Overstory. I was majorly impressed. I had not read Richard Powers before but the minute I finished that novel I wanted to read everything he wrote. Rather than go back to his first novel and read forward, as I usually do with an author, I decided to do the opposite. I created a personal challenge to read his novels in reverse order of publication, one per month throughout 2019. Orfeo is the novel that preceded The Overstory.
 
I loved this one as much though for different reasons, the main one being it is centered around music, the deepest love of my life. Peter Els is a composer, just about my age. The novel begins in the present time of post 9/11 days with a catastrophe and then proceeds forward with interspersed sections that trace Peter's entire life. I loved that too because it was like looking at a parallel history to my own.

Catastrophe, mostly self-created, has defined his life. His goals have included composing music that pushes boundaries, seeking connection between music and science (he is also a biologist), and loving his wife and daughter.

These goals clash and bring about a desperate friction between his drive to create and his need for love and human connection. That line from Joni Mitchell: "Caught in my struggle for higher achievement and my search for love" (from the song "Same Situation" on Court and Spark.)

Due to his latest experiment in his home microbiology lab, Peter is being pursued by Homeland Security as a possible terrorist. He goes on the lam, hoping to tie up the loose ends of his life or even possibly escape capture.

After completing this one, I see that to read Richard Powers you must be in shape as a reader. Like being trained for a marathon because you need fitness and stamina. Reading him is exhausting, though in a good way. You must be willing to learn stuff you didn't know before and to suspend disbelief to the utmost.

The reward is to have your thinking opened wide, possibly disarranged, and to find yourself with more ways than previously conceived of looking at life, people, history, science, and the world we live in today. 

Not for everyone, I concede, but I love that.


(Orfeo is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

14 comments:

  1. "The reward is to have your thinking opened wide, possibly disarranged, and to find yourself with more ways than previously conceived of looking at life, people, history, science, and the world we live in today..."

    Isn't that why we love reading? ;-) I will start with The Overstory, but it won't be this year.

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    1. Yes that is why! The Overstory is a good place to start!!

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  2. I love this review! I've not read Orfeo but I hope to at some point this year.

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    1. You love it? That is so wonderful!

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  3. Another great review! Richard Powers sounds like a fabulous writer.

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    1. Thank you, Lisa! He is in a class all by himself in my opinion.

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  4. I have not read powers but your commentary makes me want to read him. This particular book sounds appealing in a lot of ways. The music connection and angle sounds creative and different.

    I agree that some books do require one to be “in shape” as a reader. It is a great analogy.

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    1. I think you would find Richard Powers an author you could love, Brian. Glad you liked my analogy!

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  5. WOW, you have really seemed to have "clicked" with this author. How great is that?

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    1. Yes I have and it is, for me at least, totally great.

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  6. Would you say his writing compares to any other author? He sounds quite different. I'm glad the music focus connected with you. I need to get my reading fitness up first. :-)

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    1. According to Tom LeClair of The Christian Science Monitor, in a blurb on the back of the paperback edition, he has been compared to Franzen, Vollmann, and Wallace, but LeClair thinks he out writes them. Yes, one has to gird one's loins to go through his novels, at least the two I have read so far.

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