The Englewood Review of Books
Best Books of 2021
Advent / Christmas Calendar
Hardback: WW Norton, 2021
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Powers’s insightful, often poetic prose draws us at once more deeply toward the infinitude of the imagination and more vigorously toward the urgencies of the real and familiar stakes rattling our persons and our planet. In the world of the novel, the president sends Trumpesque tweets straight to Americans’ cellphones via a “National Notification Service” before overturning the results of a national election. Calling the president a “dung beetle” is an imprisonable offense. Freak weather, no longer the aberration, routinely disrupts travel. “Ninety-eight percent by weight of animals left on Earth” are “either Homo sapiens or their industrially harvested food.” Wildfires ravage the continent. There is precious little distance between the world of the novel and the world to which the novel makes its appeal.
Regarding the inevitable forms of tragedy with which this book is intent upon grappling — that loved ones die, that progress has its limits, that as a species we fail more often than we succeed — “Bewilderment” invites us to ponder not only our dominance of the planet and the ways that the unjust power of a few dominates the lives of others. It also insists we ponder this: At what cost do we allow our capacities for fear, jealousy and appetite to trounce other equally intrinsic capacities, like empathy, courage and forbearance? What if our worst enemy is not barricading himself in the White House or pelting our children with taunts on the playground? What if it’s right here, lighting up neural pathways inside our own skulls?
- from the NY Times review of this book by Tracy K. smith
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*** WATCH an interview with Richard Powers about this book…