Failing to See the Forest

I’m not even halfway in yet, but I’m beginning to get it. We aren’t so much Mother Nature’s darlings as the dolls she gave her true scions… the trees.

Pulitzer winner The Overstory: A Novel, by Richard Powers, first caught my interest because, as a writer, I’m learning to appreciate alternatives to the traditional, decidedly masculo-sexual, narrative structure of entrance, climax, denouement. (You can check out Jane Alison’s Meander, Spiral, Explode for more details, if you like to read about writing). The review that introduced me to this fecund ecology of ideas highlighted the novel’s design as a series of vignettes woven together by the branches and roots—and other extrusions—of the trees playing through all the various games the human characters are caught up in.

But these trees are not mere set pieces. Powers brings their agency to the fore as he reveals (among many other things) that what we simplistically understand to be a forest is, often enough, a single (genetically individual) tree. I have been enlightened to recognize so clearly that the trees have their own apparent plans, structuring the less profound lives around them as more-or-less oblivious collaborators toward the trees’ own ends.

I’d say more, but I’m anxious to find out what’s next myself. I had to take a moment though to invite you all under the canopy with me. As I said, I still have most of the story ahead of me. I’m excited to see just how wrong about it I’ve been.

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